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At 78, more-than-capable Valli delivers a great show

Back in the 1960s, when he and his Four Seasons vocal group were churning out hit after hit, Frankie Valli would amaze people with the high notes he could hit.

But those songs were recorded when Valli was a young man, in his 20s and 30s.

Now, at age 78, can he come anywhere near to hitting the high notes that made songs like "Sherry" and "Walk Like a Man" so distinctive?

That's what I was wondering as I ambled in to Shea's Performing Arts Center to hear Valli perform Saturday night.

Well, I'm certainly not going to suggest that Valli is anywhere close to the singer he was in the 1960s, but give him credit. He sings surprisingly well for a man his age and still knows how to turn on an audience.

Singing to an appreciative cadre of baby boomers who filled about 90 percent of Shea's, the original Jersey Boy showed many flashes of the talent that made him one of America's pop music icons.

The former Francis Castelluccio of Newark drew repeated ovations in a show that included more than 20 songs and lasted more than an hour and 40 minutes. I'd bet that a good many of those in attendance also saw "Jersey Boys," the Broadway show that immortalized the Four Seasons and turned into one of the biggest hit musicals of recent decades.

A diminutive man in a slick black suit, Valli seemed to enjoy every minute, laughing and joking about the "old days when we played Buffalo three or four times a year."

For the record, the original guys who sang with Valli -- Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and the late Nick Massi -- haven't been onstage with him for quite a while. Nowadays, Valli performs with a very talented 11-piece band and four much younger singers -- Todd Fournier, Landon Beard, Brian Brigham and Brandon Brigham -- who dance up a storm and nail most of the high notes for him.

They put on quite a concert, mostly sticking to the hits, but also doing some nice versions of 1960s songs that were made famous by other bands.

Valli and the Four Seasons had an amazing 71 hit songs in their recording career, and it's easy to see why. The songs were short, incredibly catchy numbers that were hard to get out of your head.

Wisely letting the young guys handle most of the tricky notes, Valli fired off one great song after another -- including "Dawn (Go Away)," "Save It For Me," "Tell It to the Rain," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Opus 17 (Don't Worry 'bout Me)."

The versions of "The Night," a song that was little known in America but a huge hit in England, and "Beggin,' " one of the band's most underrated hits, were especially strong.

The disco-tized "Swearin' to God" included an instrumental interlude that allowed all the band members, including keyboard wizard Robbie Robinson and a killer horn section from Buffalo, to show off their chops.

Some of Valli's strongest vocals came on his versions of songs popularized by others -- including the Temptations' "My Girl," the Rascals' "Groovin,' " and the old Chris Montez idea, "Call Me."

The whole place went wild when the band fired off a smoking version of one of Valli's most enduring numbers, "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)." Each of the younger singers traded off verses with the veteran, who seemed to genuinely enjoy working with them.

His musical career has no doubt put millions of dollars in Valli's bank account, but at several points during the show, he made clear that there is still a lot of the Jersey street kid in his bones.

"Hey, do we have a lotta Italians here tonight?" he asked at one point. "Anybody bring any meatball sandwiches?"



Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Sixties musical icon Shea's Performing Arts Center