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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Sep. 9, 2019 1 week ago

'Who Loves You? A Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and Beyond' hits a high note

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Oh, what a night at Florida Studio Theatre's latest production.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

At the dawn of the 1960s, a host of post-doo-wop groups sweetened the formerly a cappella art form with increasing instrumentation. The Four Seasons was one of them. The band’s frontman, Frankie Valli (nee Francesco Castelluccio), had a high-pitched falsetto that could cut glass. In 1962, Valli’s voice pierced the American mind with “Sherry.” The infectiously catchy love song became a breakout, chart-climbing, top-10 smash for the quartet — not its last.

Sharon Klein’s “Who Loves You: A Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and Beyond” celebrates Valli’s legacy in FST’s final summer production. As its jaw-breaking title implies, this revue occasionally goes “beyond” that legacy, with a sprinkling of harmony-heavy hits by The Bee Gees, The Mamas and the Papas and others.

As to the band, the Four-Seasons’ stand-ins comprise Mick Bleyer (bass), Charlie Levy (tenor), Michael Maricondi (tenor) and Peter Romanga (baritone). Music Director Tom Costello backs them up on piano. Three of the singers take turns on lead vocals. 

The revue kicks off with “Sherry” (What else?) and segues to “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and other Four Seasons standards. (Bob Gaudio penned most, occasionally collaborating with Bob Crewe.) Girls, girls, girls, is the text and subtext of every tune. After “Rag Doll,” the quartet croons two Bobby Darin classics (“Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover”), followed by a sampling of Dion’s doo-wop dynamite. (No hyperbole. Dion’s closer to doo-wop’s roots than Valli.) Great stuff, but with all due respect, DiMucci boasts of playing around on “The Wanderer” then slut-shames the protagonist of “Runaround Sue.” It strikes me as a double standard.

Peter Romagna performs in "Who Loves You? A Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and Beyond." Photo by Sarah Haley

The second act opens with “Stay.” (Evidently, she did and regretted it.) Valli swears he’ll change on “Workin’ my Way Back to You.” In the “beyond” section of the jukebox, Bleyerwins the crowd with his Elvis impersonation on “Return to Sender.” The band implies that “California Dreamin’” was chemically enhanced in a funny rendition of The Mamas and the Papas’ SoCal classic, and it combines surfing and spirituality on The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” After that, it’s back to Lounge Lizard Land, with Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” The hits from the disco era include Valli’s vocals on “Grease” and The Four Seasons’ “Oh What A Night” and “Who Loves You?”

Whether Valli or beyond, the tunes are heavy on harmony and syrupy with sentiment. (Brian Eno this isn’t, but it’s a lot of fun.) The lads kid around with cleverly coordinated dance moves and some staged New Jersey/New York rivalry. They don’t take themselves too seriously — always a bad idea in shimmering silver suits. But they’re all seriously talented.

Peter Romagna, Charlie Levy, Michael Maricondi and Mick Bleyer perform in "Who Loves You? A Musical Tribute to Frankie Valli and Beyond." Photo by Sarah Haley

Catherine Randazzo gets credit for artistic oversight, not direction. Whatever you call it, she’s good at it. Costello’s music direction is sharp. The living musicians (Costello included) are, too. I’m not keen on the recorded instrumental tracks. That’s great in a big arena, overdone in an intimate cabaret. I’d dial it back.

Klein’s jukebox musical has a music-hall feel. The performers encourage the audience to clap and sing along. (They do, with the exception of notebook-wielding critics.) The audience was hopping and bopping along — including two young women by the door.

It’s nice to know The Four Seasons’ appeal isn’t confined to the seasons of the past.

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