Jersey Boys, the 2006 Tony Award–winning musical based on the lives of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, has been thrilling audiences and critics alike on Broadway, around the country and across the pond.
In addition to introducing a new generation to such hits as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Let's Hang On," "Bye Bye Baby" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," Jersey Boys, directed by Des McAnuff, has brought belated respect to an enormously popular group that never received the critical accolades lavished on such contemporaries as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. When the show opened in the West End, Benedict Nightingale, in his rave review in the Times of London, wrote, "Indeed, there were times last night when I felt the performers were making even the Beatles sound somewhat lacking in musical texture." Sweet vindication for a group that had 13 top-ten hits between 1962 and 1967.
"Our success was against all odds," says Valli. "We were such a low-profile musical entity. We were never really embraced by the industry, and we weren't with a major record company until much later."
"I think that because people never paid attention, they really don't have a clue what the musical content is," says Bob Gaudio, who composed most of the songs, often with lyrics by Bob Crewe. "There are a lot of classical undertones and overtones in my music that people never picked up on because of the pop sound. But if you're a musician, try to play the chords. You'll learn that it takes some practice. We were never glamour boys. We never got that kind of publicity. We were only as good as our last record. No one even considered that we might have a following of any consequence. Now fans are coming out of the closet. But who knew? It's such a kick to see those people having so much fun with the show." In addition to the electric music, what makes Jersey Boys special is the moving warts-and-all book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, which tells the story of Valli, Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito from all four perspectives.
"I'm sure that in the beginning, everybody thought this was going to be just another jukebox revue," says Valli. "But Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice were very careful in the way they constructed the piece, and they did an incredible job. We all decided that if there was going to be a show, we were going to have to reveal a lot of things that had been swept under the carpet. It could not be a made-up story — the show certainly never would have had the legs that it's had. Revealing portions of your life that are private is not easy, and you have to think about how it affects other people. We really had to wrestle with some things. For years there were factions of The Four Seasons that didn't speak to each other."
The Frankie Valli that audiences get to know in the show comes off as decent, hard working and ambitious. His voice, with its remarkable falsetto, and Gaudio's music gave The Four Seasons their distinctive sound, and the two of them formed an enduring partnership separate from the rest of the group, based on just a handshake. They agreed to split all earnings down the middle regardless of where their careers took them. Gaudio would go on to become a much sought-after producer and arranger, while Valli developed a solo career.
"My part [in the show] is pretty consistent with what I'm all about and the way I feel about life," says Valli. "I felt that if there was anything in life that I wanted, it was up to me to go out there and get it, without trampling over anybody. Even my situation with Bob Gaudio where we became partners — it really didn't interfere with anything or anybody in the group. Early on there were ill feelings, but I never found them to be justifiable. The deal came about because Gaudio and I were really the guys that did the legwork. We wanted success so bad, so we were out there knocking on doors. It wasn't four guys going into New York every day trying to make an appointment or place a record. It was Gaudio and I."
"I think one of the reasons a lot of people have such strong feelings about the show is that loyalty," adds Gaudio. "They feel the loyalty and camaraderie. There's that Jersey thing, there's the handshake, and it's all true. Your word is your bond. People are very affected by the partnership."
Now Gaudio and Valli get to revel in the success of Jersey Boys and their own achievements. "This show has been blessed," says Gaudio. "All the pieces just came together. The fact that no one knew anything about us has so worked to our benefit. Had we been The Beatles, had we been The Beach Boys, the show would not be nearly as effective. I don't think anyone's created a bio musical as good as this one. When I watch the show — and the same is true for Frankie — I'm able to get a kind of understanding of what we have accomplished and what the audience is feeling. I assume it's similar to what they feel when they see Frankie in concert or when they saw us perform as a group. How many people get to experience something like that?"