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'Jersey Boys': Four seasons full of song and drama

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Jersey Boys

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In the early 1960s, before the Beatles and the Stones, there were the boys from the Beach and the boys from Jersey. There was no mistaking one sound for the other. Each group reflected the environment from which it came. The Jersey Boys…aka…The Four Seasons mirrored its urban roots with something else…an almost indefinable something. “Jersey Boys” tells how that group and sound came to be. Directed by Clint Eastwood with screenplay and musical book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on the Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys” is full of the Four Seasons’ music, masterfully led by Tony-Award winning actor, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli.

Although the movie flushes out the play, the structure is much the same, with various members of the ensemble narrating the action and speaking directly to the audience throughout the movie. The film opens with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) talking about the New Jersey neighborhood in which they grew up and introduces us to Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Frankie. Nick and Tommy are several years older than the somewhat innocent 16-year-old Frankie, and both, but especially Tommy, look out for him. Even when they get into trouble, the two make sure that Frankie stays clean. Frankie earns money working in a barbershop where Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a “made man,” is a regular and has taken a shine to Frankie and his voice. Tommy and Nick have a singing group with ever-changing names, with Frankie occasionally singing lead. Nick and Tommy have a few minor jail setbacks, but once that is in the past…or is it… they try to put their singing career back on track and make Frankie, with his amazing falsetto, a full-fledge member of the group. However, the group is going nowhere fast until Joey (Joseph Russo) from the neighborhood (who becomes the Joe Pesci of movie fame) puts them in touch with Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Gaudio is a singer/songwriter who had recently written the hit Short Shorts. Although from New Jersey, he is most definitely not one of the guys. He’s educated, well-read and doesn’t have their New Jersey attitude. What he does have is enormous talent and some connections. Tommy is immediately jealous of Gaudio and his smarts, but once Gaudio puts them in touch with record producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and writes their first hit record, “Sherry,” animosities are put on the back burner. With the group’s appearance on American Bandstand (be on the lookout for the Dick Clark stand-in), their success is assured for some time. Unfortunately, life is not all lollipops and roses, and there are breakups, sadness, and then the re-emergence of Valli as a solo artist. And what a re-emergence that is with the mega-hit, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”

To say these actors can sing and make you believe they are the Four Seasons is putting it mildly. Their voices, coupled with amazing choreography, put you back in the 60s for real. John Lloyd Young is absolutely phenomenal as Frankie Valli. It is like watching and listening to Valli himself. And it wasn’t until I heard Michael Lomenda’s Nick that I realized how important his bass voice was to the group. Mike Doyle and Erich Bergen as Crewe and Gaudio give “Jersey Boys” real depth. Their performances seem very genuine. Christopher Walken is also very convincing as the connected mobster with a soft spot for Frankie. Finally there is Vincent Piazza’s Tommy. If not for Young’s singing, this actor would have stolen the movie (which is fitting, given his character). The film bursts with energy every time he’s on screen. Even with the nastiness of his character, he makes you feel for him.

Despite all of this exceptional talent, something about the film feels a little off. For some reason Eastwood’s direction doesn’t give the movie enough oomph. Maybe it’s “Jersey Boys” lack of color…the shots often seem muted…but something is off that doesn’t infuse the viewer with the same spirit as did the play. Maybe as a movie that’s just not possible.

How much of the back-story is true? The film and play had the blessing of Valli, Gaudio and Crewe. That said, Valli’s New Jersey-Italian parents seem just a tad too stereotypical. And the early scenes with the police are almost Officer Krupke in nature.

Dings aside, “Jersey Boys” is still highly entertaining. The singing, dancing and acting will make you wish the film went on a little longer. And if you don’t exit the theatre humming Big Girls Don’t Cry…well, I don’t know what to say.

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