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New Jersey State of Mind

It isn’t easy bringing the “Jersey Boys” musical to life onstage. Just ask the guy who plays Frankie Valli.

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After three years of playing Frankie Valli in the touring production of "Jersey Boys," Hayden Milanes has every right to be tired — and he sounds it.

If emulating Valli's powerful, recognizable falsetto for six shows a week wasn't exhausting enough, there's the fact that Milanes sings about 30 songs through the course of the two-and-a-half-hour musical.

"Usually, the most a guy sings in a musical is five or six, tops. You add 20 to that, and you have a tall order," Milanes says of portraying the Four Seasons' frontman. "It's sort of like marathon training to get used to it."

Following the story of four blue-collar boys and their rise to fame, "Jersey Boys" chronicles the real-life issues that the early rock and pop group experienced, including jail time, mob connections and gambling debts. As famous and prolific as the Four Seasons were — charting 30 Top 40 hits as a group — much of the band's story came to light only after librettists Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice started conducting research for the musical.

Jason Kappus, who portrays the Seasons' songwriter, musician and producer Bob Gaudio, compares the show to an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music."

"It's a rags-to-riches story about four guys from New Jersey," Kappus says. "It's the narrative of their whole journey from back when it was just two guys standing on a corner through 40 years together."

While it runs through The Four Seasons' biggest hits, such as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man," the musical has a number of surprising moments, including Gaudio being introduced to the rest of the group through a not-yet-famous Joe Pesci. In portraying these living legends, Kappus says the actors have tried to get the feel of the characters, rather than attempt a direct portrayal.

"We're not trying to do impressions of these guys, though we are trying to re-create the sound to a certain extent," Kappus says, adding that all of the music in the show is performed live by a 10-piece band.

Like Milanes, Kappus says singing in the majority of the show's 33 songs has been a challenge. "It's a very big job, but it's been nice to learn about my own vocal stamina and range," he says. "It's very demanding, and learning to sing the show was a process that lasted beyond rehearsals."

Through working on the show, Milanes has met Valli a number of times, and says he's just as powerful a performer as ever.

"He's just a cool guy from New Jersey with this brilliant voice," Milanes says. "He's still up there singing, and he sounds just the same as he did back in the day. He's in great shape, and he sings phenomenally."

"[Portraying Valli] is a big responsibility, and it's one of the most gratifying responsibilities," he says. "People walk away really knowing these guys on a personal level. We tell this story, warts and all." S

"Jersey Boys" plays at the Landmark Theater from Jan. 7-19. For information, visit landmarktheater.net or call 800-514-3849.

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