“Jersey Boys” is about the Four Seasons, the rock band that had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the story is also structured by the seasons, in acts named for spring, summer, fall and winter, in which a different member of the band addresses the audience, sharing his memories of the group.
For anyone who is only familiar with the Four Seasons’ music and lead singer Frankie Valli’s fierce falsetto singing voice, the tales these characters tell may include some revelations.
“When I first saw the show, I was really surprised what some of the guys went through,” said Luke Darnell, who plays mob boss Gyp DeCarlo in the version of the show that opened Tuesday at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly.
Several band members, for example, spent time in jail for crimes they committed in neighborhoods around Newark, New Jersey.
But “Jersey Boys” also explores the family and romantic relationships that group members developed in those neighborhoods, where they also began a long friendship with DeCarlo.
“Gyp isn’t all that mean in this show, but he’s certainly a strong figure,” Darnell said.
All this emphasis on character and story helps to elevate the show above the level of other jukebox musicals, where the narrative is usually just a means for getting to the next song.
“I would have to guess the vast majority are going to love the music and the dancing,” Darnell said. “If they’re theatergoers, a really great story is told as well.”
In “Jersey Boys,” that is a story about how music rather than crime allowed the Four Seasons to transcend their humble roots, but without leaving those origins entirely behind.
“It spoke to a different demographic than the Beatles,” Darnell said. “It was more a working-class kind of vibe they appealed to.”
He said that, in rehearsal at North Shore Music Theatre, they have discussed how elements of blue collar, urban life are reflected in the lyrics of Four Seasons songs like “Dawn” or “Rag Doll.”
“They focused a little more on the downtrodden types, or the people having a tougher time,” Darnell said.
He was also raised in New Jersey, in Morristown. But in Darnell’s case, music and theater were an established family business, rather than an escape route out of tough times.
“I don’t think I would have had the nerve to do this if I hadn’t grown up around it,” he said. “I was too shy.”
Darnell’s grandfather, Coley Worth, was a vaudeville performer who toured in a troupe with other family members.
He once appeared on television in a “Honeymooners” skit with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, who were playing bus driver Ralph Kramden and bartender Ed Norton.
“He was playing a con man, who convinced Ed and Ralph to invest in a miracle hair growth product,” Darnell said.
His father, Robert Darnell, was born in Los Angeles and eventually moved back there to appear in movies and television, after working in “several Broadway shows,” Darnell said.
His mother, Caroline Worth, was an actress and also taught ballet at a dance school that his grandparents founded in Morristown.
“Around 1980, my mother and stepfather expanded it to have musical theater and voice courses,” Darnell said.
All of these relatives performed at the North Shore Music Theatre at some point. Brad Tyrell, Darnell’s stepfather, met his mother there when both were performing in “Mame” 50 years ago.
“There’s some old, silent, eight millimeter films from that production of ‘Mame,’” he said. “It’s coming out of a tent. It’s just quick snippets of my mother coming offstage with Elaine Stritch,” who won multiple Emmy and Tony awards. “My mom was Gooch to Stritch’s Mame.”
Darnell, who has appeared on stages from New York to Las Vegas and also works as a stuntman, is making his first appearance at North Shore Music Theatre with “Jersey Boys,” and can’t help but think of his family connections to the venue.
“Getting on that stage for the first time, I got sentimental,” he said. “I grew up with my grandfather, a funny, lovable guy, and I’m very close with my mother. To know I’m on the same stage they performed on — it means a lot to me, that family legacy. I’m proud of it.”
But stepping on that circular stage also reminds Darnell how unique it is to do theater in the round. He said it drives the story home, when characters stride around the stage as they talk to the audience.
“They walk the circle, and make sure each section of the audience gets it,” Darnell said. “I think it adds a different kind of flavor to that narration, when a guy is talking from one side of the circle to another.”
He is also impressed by director and choreographer Kevin Hill’s dance steps, in which the Four Seasons “crisscross” on stage while singing. That allows them to reach every audience member, where normally they would remain in a static line.
“I can’t remember the last time I performed in the round,” Darnell said. “Kevin really knows how to do it.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Jersey Boys”
When: Through Sept. 1. Show times Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
Where: North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly
How much: Tickets $61-$88
More information: www.nsmt.org, 978-232-7200