‘Jersey Boys’ musical soars far above the norm at the Shubert

In the 60’s and beyond, The Four Seasons ruled the charts, singing the praises of girls like Sherry, Dawn Ronnie, and Marianne. But, as the smash bio-musical “Jersey Boys,” which just opened at the Shubert, reveals, in real life Frankie, Bob, Tommy, and Nick, cared far more about music business success than any romance.

This phenomenally successful jukebox musical soars considerably higher than your average oldies tribute show. Much more gritty and masculine than “Mamma Mia!” “Jersey Boys” retraces the career of four Garden State harmonizers who put family and even friendship aside in their drive to churn out one No. 1 hit after another, selling 175 million records before they were thirty.

The multi-Tony Award-winning show’s rough language, frank depiction of enduring criminal involvement, and often derisive portrayal of the four protagonists make “Jersey Boys” a far cry from other “backstage musicals” like “42nd Street” or even “Dreamgirls.”

The disparity between the grinding reality of doing international tours and the singers’ “passionate poor guy” personas is captured by the contrast between the chain link basic set and the campy comic book projections in the Roy Lichtenstein “Crying Girl” vein.

Also adding a certain ironic distance to demonstrate that the show aims to do more than recreate blasts from the past is the juxtaposition of live video of the performers with archival footage of Ed Sullivan and screaming teeny-bopper fans.

“Jersey Boys” gets its crowd-thrilling impact by harnessing what made the original group unique: Frankie Valli’s incredible multi-octave range and the catchy tunes that fellow Four Season Bob Gaudio wrote, capitalizing on his amazing vocal gifts.

Joseph Leo Bwaire incarnates Valli as a short guy with a towering voice. The not-so-overwhelming size of the Shubert suits the confessional format of the script which lets Frankie, Tommy (Matt Bailey), Bob (Josh Franklin), and Nick (Steve Gouveia) in succession give his personal take on how the quartet led the pack and then stumbled.

Under the smart direction of Des McAnuff, the fast succession of short, sharp scenes and energetic renditions of familiar classics builds a tsunami-like force that ultimately sweeps spectators to their feet for a thunderous standing O at the finale.

“Jersey Boys” runs through Sept. 26, but then true fans can look forward to Sat., Nov. 7, when the real Frankie Valli (backed up by some younger new Four Seasons ) will do these hits all over again in what is sure to be a sellout at the Wang Theatre . Look for details on both shows at citicenter.org.