PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Jersey Boys: A Musical for All Seasons

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07 Nov 2005

Frankie Valli; Bob Gaudio; Tommy DeVito; John Lloyd Young; Daniel Reichard; Christian Hoff; J. Robert Spencer; Robert DeNiro; Joe Pesci; Edie Falco; Jamie-Lynn Discala; Frankie Avalon; Dennis Farina; Paul Shaffer; Neil Sedaka.
Frankie Valli; Bob Gaudio; Tommy DeVito; John Lloyd Young; Daniel Reichard; Christian Hoff; J. Robert Spencer; Robert DeNiro; Joe Pesci; Edie Falco; Jamie-Lynn Discala; Frankie Avalon; Dennis Farina; Paul Shaffer; Neil Sedaka.
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Oh, what a night! The standing ovations started before the show did.

Just before Jersey Boys broke into its Broadway stride on Nov. 6, three of The Four Seasons—the surviving genuine-article: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio and Tommy DeVito—swept into the newly named August Wilson Theatre, and the first-nighters were on their feet in an instant. They were—OK, we were—jazzed, and the happy ending the Boys had coming was happening.

Then, the show began—only to be stopped, cold, in its tracks, by the Boys' arrival in Hit Falsettoland with "Sherry," a song Gaudio composed in 15 minutes. The audience sat down, and then came another #1 hit—"Big Girls Don't Cry," based on an old Rhonda Fleming retort to John Payne in a 1955 western, Tennessee's Partner (Ronald Reagan had the title role). Finishing us off was their third #1 hit in a row—"Walk Like a Man."

Act II's roof-raising "11 o'clock number," which, incredibly, no recording executive wanted to touch—"Can't Take My Eyes Off of You"—had us all back on our feet again.

And, come curtain call, we were all up again, in for a very long stand while Valli, Gaudio and DeVito charged the stage and congratulated their gifted impersonators—John Lloyd Young, Daniel Reichard and Christian Hoff. The missing member, Nick Massi, claimed by cancer on Christmas Eve of 2000, was played by J. Robert Spencer. When all seven hailed a Leichtenstein-like likeness of Massi on stage, there were few dry eyes in the house.

It was like that all evening—up and down, up and down. I got the bends. Oh, what a night!

The musical book that threads the golden oldies together—sometimes plugging them in directly to the heart of the on-stage action—is the first Broadway endeavor of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Beginner's luck, but it's well grounded: Brickman is a Woody Allen collaborator and a film writer-director in his own right; his farthest reach as a musician was providing his half of the "Dueling Banjos" duet in Deliverance. Elice is a theatrical advertising executive who happened to be a poker crony of Brickman.

And therein lies a tale that Elice tells with some relish: "I know Marshall from poker. We have these poker nights. That's how I met him. I've lost a lot of money to him on Texas Hold 'Em, which is one of the games we play. I finally said one night when I was bereft of money, 'I don't have any money to pay my poker debts so how about we write a show together?' He said, 'I don't write shows.' I said, 'OK, well, why don't we try this Four Seasons thing?' We did all the Vivaldi jokes. We sorta vaguely knew about The Four Seasons already, but we sat and listened to the music and got really juiced about it. Then, we met Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, and we just felt spontaneously drawn to it."

They used real names, and quite a few of those real names materialized on opening night—among them, one of the latter-day Seasons, arranger Charles Callello, and, most prominently of all, Bob Crewe, who supplied the lyrics for the Seasons' evergreens and rates a colorfully flamboyant spin on stage by Peter Gregus. "It's very surreal to see your life pass before you like that," Crewe confessed, " to see it happening and think, 'I remember that. I was there.' I'm totally, totally pleased with the whole production."

Because of the group's admitted (in fact, dramatized) mob ties, the high profile hoods from the 'hood were heavily in attendance, starting with an Oscar-winning Godfather (Robert DeNiro) and Goodfella (Joe Pesci)—neither of whom made the exuberant after-party at the barn like Broadway Ballroom in the Marriott Marquis. Pesci, in fact, is one of those aforementioned real names—back then, Tommy's patsy and, later, his boss.

"The Sopranos" were there in abundance as well, beginning with series creator David Chase, Emmy-winning Edie Falco (who'll be back on Broadway herself—April 20 at Studio 54—with Alan Cumming, Jim Dale and Nellie McKay in Threepenny Opera) and Jamie-Lynn Discala, then continuing on down the capo ranks with Tony Sirico, Steve Van Zandt, Frank Vincent and Vincent Pastore (the last two plug-uglies recently seconded their connection by being adversarily co-starred in Vincent Sassone's sleeper feature, A Tale of Two Pizzas). Other Italian-Americans on parade: Valli teen rival Frankie Avalon, Danny Aiello, ballerina Alessandra Ferri, and Dennis Farina.

There were big-time musical big-wigs: Letterman band-leader Paul Shaffer, record producer-turned-Cafe Carlyle crooner Steve Tyrell, Neil Sedaka, who has started up his own Broadway-bound jukebox show down at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida called Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (natch!), Ellie Greenwich, record exec Mike Curb, whose enthusiasm couldn't be curbed (Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are under contract to his Curb Records), deejay "Cousin" Bruce Morrow. And from Broadway, Tony winners like Tommy Tune, Bebe Neuwirth, director Gene Saks, Jerry Zaks, Jerry Mitchell (who's celebrating the 25th anniversary of his first Broadway show, Brigadoon, Nov. 7 at Angus McIndoe—with the original director and lead actress, Vivian Matalon and Meg Bussert), Roger Rees, Joanna Gleason—plus Chris Sarandon, John Lithgow (who starred in the Brickman-directed Manhattan Project), Elaine May and Singin' in the Rain's Stanley Donen (who practiced his Oscar-acceptance song-and-dance with Brickman's Annie Hall Oscar), choreographer-director John Carrafa, Victoria Tennant and Dick Cavett.


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