I am not a professional movie critic, and thank God for that because I do know a good thing when I see it. Jersey Boys isn’t just a good thing. It’s a great thing, but we’ll get to that.
I was lucky enough to see the stage production on the National Tour in December 2011. It was phenomenal. It was a funny, heartbreaking, exciting two and a half hour rock concert. I was singing Four Seasons songs for days afterwards, and I wanted to go back, again and again. Then, a few months ago, I saw this movie trailer online.
And I got really nervous and really excited all at the same time. It’s similar to making a book into a movie. It’s a nerve-wracking thing. You want those words in that book to come alive before you on screen, but you’re nervous that all the things you love and adore about that book won’t be portrayed the way you imagined them as you read. Everything about the stage production of Jersey Boys from start to finish is incredible and amazing, and the opportunity to have all that energy and delightful fun in a permanent form for which I could someday own a DVD was a thrilling prospect. At the same time, I wondered what on earth would Hollywood do to my memories of the stage production, i.e., how would they ruin it?
My mother has seen the stage production multiple times because she loves it so much, and the movie was released the weekend of her birthday. I mean, how perfect is that?! I was cautiously optimistic for her because I didn’t want it ruined for her, either. I waited with bated breath that Friday knowing she and dad were going to the first matinée showing. I couldn’t wait to hear her review because honestly I know no other more qualified expert on this particular show than my mother. She came home, typed me a quick email about how fabulous (her word) it was and how they had added a few scenes which worked perfectly but beyond that the movie was the stage production just on the big screen. Ok…sold. I saw it the next day, and then went again the following Saturday. My parents are coming for a visit next week, and we already have plans to see it then. I read a post from one person today that said they’d seen it 15 times. It’s that good.
When I saw the stage production, we sat in the balcony. It wasn’t a bad seat because the theatre wasn’t large, but I still believe there’s a certain intimacy you get from a movie vs. a stage production. The actors on stage are trying to reach every person in the theatre through their performance and projection. On film, it’s just the camera. After I saw the movie the first time, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was getting my very own private stage production viewing, like these four guys were telling their story just to me.
One thing I was thrilled about was the casting of John Lloyd Young along with many of the other actors from the various companies of the stage show. I thought it gave authenticity and strength to the movie because these actors have mastered their roles. They knew these characters in some ways better than they knew themselves. It felt like we were getting the hybrid of each character from the lot. The best of the best. John Lloyd Young won the Tony Award (and every other award possible) for originating the Frankie Valli role on Broadway, a performance I never got the opportunity to see. If his performance on Broadway was even half that of what he does in the movie, I will regret not seeing that til the day I die, but the beauty of this movie is that I get to catch a glimpse of what I missed. His performance is intoxicating, and I’m not even talking about his singing. The dramatic story of the Four Seasons is written all over his face. The hardships they overcame, the devastating losses, and the fight to make it all happen, it’s all there in every word he speaks. Add to that his perfection in voice, and by the time we get to the top of hour two, I’m in love, and I’ve officially forgotten what the real Frankie Valli even looks and sounds like because John Lloyd Young simply is him. I’ve learned that his preparation for the role on Broadway was maniacal. I haven’t read this about any other actor who has played Frankie. John Lloyd Young wanted to be certain his performance was as genuine and reverent as possible, and he achieved that over and over. It’s that dedication to his craft that comes through in every scene. It moved me to tears for the final 20 minutes of the movie. His reaction to the crowd after singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off You makes me bawl like a baby.
Michael Lomenda plays bass player Nick Massi, and when I pulled my Playbill out from the stage production, I discovered he was the Nick Massi in that company, too. So, I like to tell people he’s the only Nick Massi I’ve ever known. I’ve refrained from stopping complete strangers on the street to say this though. I love that he’s Canadian, and has a flawless Jersey accent. He also gets to deliver the greatest comedic lines of the entire show. All you need to know is a pile of towels, a sink, and tiny bars of soap. I laugh so hard I cry, and at the end of those lines, Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) just says, “thank you for sharing,” and I’m done for. Truthfully, of the Four Seasons, Nick Massi’s story is the most heartbreaking to me. Maybe it has something to do with him being the only one of the Four Seasons who is no longer with us, or maybe it’s how brilliant he was only to have to put up with so much and end up leading such a sad life. His story just hits me hard every time, and I just want to give Michael Lomenda a great big hug by the end of it.
Bob Gaudio. Go ahead. Try to say that name without sounding like you’re from Jersey. I guarantee you can’t do it. I know. I’ve tried. Erich Bergen who opened the first National Tour and then performed in the role for the first two years in the Vegas company, is nothing short of brilliant. Bob is the kid from the right side of the tracks with more musical genius in his little finger than most of us could ever hope to have. I have the soundtrack in my car, and I listen to it every day on my way home from work. I cannot even begin to measure the size of my smile when “Cry For Me” starts. It’s the first song Bob sings for Frankie, Tommy, and Nick before he joins the group, and it’s exemplary. The casting story for Erich goes that Clint Eastwood asked the real Bob Gaudio (see you can’t say it without sounding like you’re from Jersey) which one of all the Bob’s was the closest to being the real him, and Bob said Erich. The rest is history. The way Erich portrays the friendship and partnership he and Frankie have leaps off the screen. I feel like part of Bob’s character represents us, the audience, because to understand this story means to want to fight for these guys. Wanting to fix things for them. Wanting to just make everything better. They’re all so talented that you just want to strip away all the “old neighborhood” strings attached. Bob manages to pull a boatload of #1 hits out of his hat that are songs which have underscored nearly all our lives at one point, and in doing so, he gives Frankie Valli an avenue, an outlet for his angelic voice. And through the movie, I feel like Erich’s portrayal of Bob really takes us on this journey through their friendship.
Tommy DeVito is a schmuck, and that’s putting it nicely, but I kid you not, you will love and hate Vincent Piazza in this role. You’ll want to smack him one minute and hug him the next. Shoot, I even have Tommy’s opening line of the movie stuck in my head. Tommy wanted all the fame and the money and the girls, but had no clue how to actually manage it all on the right side of the law (and loan sharks). He was given an incredible gift in the form of his friendship with Frankie Valli because Frankie was going to be loyal to him no matter what. It’s what you do when you’re from Jersey, right, Michael Lomenda?! Vincent Piazza is the only one of the four who never did the stage production, but there’s not a single, solitary moment in the film where you can tell that. Everything you’re supposed to think and feel about Tommy, Vincent embodies. He’s the charmer who will break your heart and your dining room chairs. One thing I really noticed during the band’s performance of Who Loves You is Vincent watching John Lloyd Young. Maybe Tommy’s supposed to do this. I don’t know. But there’s a certain awe in the look in his eye when they’re singing and he’s catching a glimpse of John Lloyd Young. It’s as if he’s just enamored with John Lloyd’s talent, and I, for one, can’t blame him.
I could speak for days about the hysterical Joey Russo’s portrayal of Joey (first name only, so I don’t give that part away for anyone who doesn’t know the story). I mean the kid really did kind of put the group together, but he always seems like a pipsqueak to me, and Joey Russo does not disappoint. I could wax poetic about Renée Marino’s dark, harrowing portrayal of Frankie Valli’s first wife Mary Delgado. She’s a ball buster, and you kind of want to hate her most of the show, but in this one pivotal scene when she’s inconsolable while clutching the hands of her family members…lordy…you know in that one moment exactly why Clint Eastwood cast her. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing more of Renée in other projects.
I think my initial nervousness about the stage production being made into a movie was because of Clint Eastwood. While I know his remarkable and vast talent as a director, I was still a bit like, really?! Then you go see it, and you see the way he makes everything you love about the show that much deeper…that much more involved. He makes you feel these characters in your bones. The coloring of the film is perfect. The cinematography is out of this world. But the single greatest thing he did for this movie besides the impeccable casting was to have the guys sing live. No prerecorded music. No lip syncing. That’s part of why this movie comes alive. That is what makes you feel like you’re sitting in a theatre alone getting a private performance. It’s what makes you sing along and dance in your seat. It’s what makes you feel like you’re a part of the action…like you’re in a time machine at an actual Four Seasons concert for two hours. But the finale…OH MY WORD…the finale. It is worth the price of admission alone. When it’s over, I want to run up to the projection room and rewind just to watch that last bit, again and again and again. It is his nod to all us lovers of the stage production. It’s as if he’s saying to the audience, “thanks for trusting me with your beloved musical. Here’s a little gift for you.” And if you haven’t fallen in love with John Lloyd Young by the time the finale rolls around, you will in that moment. Whenever the DVD is released, I’m certain I will watch that finale first before I go back and watch the whole movie from start to finish.
As I said, I’m not a professional critic, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, yet. I’m on a personal mission to increase the box office receipts. If you happen to live in a place the National Tour never reached, go see this movie. You’ll see what you missed. If you’ve seen the stage production and love it, go see this movie. You’ll love it, too. Oh hell…just go see the movie, already. And if I haven’t given you enough reasons here to see it, might I add one quasi related reason. These are the shoes John Lloyd Young wore to the premiere of the movie at the LA Film Festival. If you can’t go to a movie out of respect for a man with this much style, I just…I don’t know what to do with you. Smokin’ Hot!