It’s 11 at night, a clear and beautiful evening as a small crowd gathers in the loading area of the Chicago Theater. A young woman, whose glasses continually teeter off the bridge of her nose, past her pale blue eyes, gazes around the lobby. She and her sunny, dark-eyed friend have their autograph books turned to the proper page. They look hopeful, until a security guard says that maybe the star won’t be coming through this exit.

The former had contracted Frankie fever by ruminating over her parents’ record collection. She had seen ‘Jersey Boys’, but the musical, which opened in 2005 in the US, and which told the story of Frankie Valli and the original Four Seasons’ beginnings through the eyes of the original line-up, the front man’s challenges and solo career, had only whet her appetite for meeting the flesh and blood legend.

A seven-year-old Frankie Valli must have known that feeling when he and his mother went to the Paramount Theater in New York City to see his own hero, Frank Sinatra. Both Franks were proud of their Italian heritage and both navigated the garden states, school-of-hard-knocks streets, courtesy of Newark and Hoboken. They would both sell out the house and make the girls fantasize. But, Frankie, between you and me, Frank S.’s baritone, while technically great, just left me cold. I never quite got the connection. But, you, Frankie, you move me.

There was a bustle in the theater before the performance because, before the mostly over-40 patrons found seats, they reminisced. Many had seen Valli and the Four Seasons multiple times. They weren’t looking to be shocked or surprised; they expected the Crewe-Gaudio hits and they would get them.

Robby Robinson, musical director, since 1978, could oversee the onstage activity from his throne, never missing a beat, entrance or modulation: lurching from the throne, like a determined Dracula at midnight, just in time to swirl his commando hands up or down. Sometimes he faced the horn section, other times, the current four-seasoned “Seasons”, a handsome trio who looked like they pumped iron between performances.

Some friendships were meant to be. In the early 1960s, American actor, Joe Pesce, introduced Valli to fifteen-year-old pianist/songwriter, Bob Gaudio, whose hit on the airwaves was ‘Short Shorts.’ The savvy showman, who would become one of the original Four Seasons and would encourage and support Valli’s career as a solo artist in the late 1970s, like his colleague, knew talent and understood loyalty.

Their enterprise meant that they would split the proceeds of their venture down the middle: it was sealed with an ordinary handshake, and based on a good deal of common sense. Valli had a powerful falsetto, an amazing ear, and genuine warmth that couldn’t be bottled or reproduced. Gaudio’s lyrics about young men and women experiencing and surviving love, often despite economic disparity, would find a home on Valli’s expressive face. Producer/songwriter Bob Crewe was a frequent collaborator too.

1963’s ‘Walk Like a Man’ predated the feminist pop culture offerings of Carole King and Laura Nyro. If a “man’s movement” needed voice, a musical place where the American male might feel safe to bare his soul, this resplendent ballad could have been an opus.

It was a night full of those famous Crewe-Gaudio lyrics, but, first, the song composed by Barry Gibb, for the film version of the musical, ‘Grease’, was sung. It was 1978 when it would serve as another hit for the now septarian, and, for most of the evening, we would pretty much be working our way back to the 1960s.

Because of his loyal fan base and ear for marketability, Valli survived the dubious British Invasion, unlike Ronnie Spector or Frankie Avalon. In 1975, ‘My Eyes Adored You’ shot up to number one, as did ‘Swearin’ to God’, at number six. These passionate tunes made an indelible mark on the UK as well. This happened despite some bad news – Valli had gotten otosclerosis in the early part of the decade. The disease affected his hearing so profoundly that he had to rely on his memory. Fortunately, by the 1980s, successful surgery had solved the dilemma. If this disability had marred his ability to sing, there was no sign of it.

Valli clasps the hands of an excited woman and a longhaired girl as he gracefully spans the stage, carefully, covertly sweeping the mic cord out of his purposeful path. That voice is as strong as ever - when his backing singers respond to his melody, their communication is seamless and straightforward.

Frankie’s rendering of ‘Beggin’ tugs at our heart sleeves. The act, Madcon, covered this song, contemporizing it by incorporating a rap. Though they kept much of the original arrangement intact, I shudder to think of how that version would go over tonight.

It’s easy to see why a Cole Porter classic would appear. Great songs deserve great onstage song mates. There was some Leiber/Stoller, ‘Groovin’ by the Young Rascals and ‘Let It Be Me’, a stately song make famous by Elvis, with a melody written by Gilbert Becaud and lyrics by Mann Curtis. Even Smokey Robinson’s ‘My Girl’ elbowed its pretty way into the set list.

But despite the outstanding collection, there was the star that acted like anything but one.

Valli spent more than the usual amount of time introducing us to each member of the band. He also added something memorable or timely about each one. I can’t tell you the number of times headliners have either mumbled unintelligibly the names of the entourage or felt no need to address them at all. Frankie also made us feel good about our town. He cited his early recording history and how Chicago record labels had been a part of it, and how New York City and Chicago were two cities that brought Jersey Boys a large chunk of success. The preening worked its charm on us natives, even though some of the out-of-town tail-gaters took note.

Back outside, the pocketful of patient fans had grown. Finally a security guard bolted to the front of the chaotic arrangement. Next to her was someone I think I grew up with, an unassuming man who calmly waited for the commands to die down. He wasn’t wearing glitter or makeup and his voice matched the even keel of his temporary minder.

She announced that those who were ready – pens poised, albums or papers laid out on a surface, would get an autograph. One woman begged for a snapshot. Then Frankie stood his ground. “No more,” he said. “If I do it for one, I have to do it for everybody.” That’s all he had to say, and now his statement would rest on our collective conscience. Imagine what time he got up this morning, after this rabid, national tour. But it was the fairness that couldn’t be disputed. It’s like the rare teacher you have in grade school who refuses to cater to the most brilliant or beautiful. Let’s just be fair, and who could argue?

A tall, charismatic man edged his way towards Frankie and whispered his name. Immediately the two men embraced in a bear hug. The two had gone “way back” and the encounter said it all: a man like Frankie Valli never forgets a face or a good friend. It just wouldn’t be fair.











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