Serving Winnipeg's Jewish Community Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn Youtube

By BERNIE BELLAN
“Jersey Boys” is one of the most popular musicals to hit the stage in quite some time. The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it was first produced on Broadway in 2005.

  It won four Tony Awards in 2006. Most recently it was made into a movie in 2014 directed by Clint Eastwood. In both the case of the stage production and the movie, the “book” (the dialogue) was co-written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.
Featuring all the hits that made the Four Seasons one of the most popular singing groups of all time, “Jersey Boys” is a feel-good musical that’s been described as “a real thumper of a show with fantastic songs” (the Daily Mail).
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Elice and discuss some aspects of how “Jersey Boys” came into being. To begin with, Elice explained that the stage show and the movie are quite different.  “The director went a more serious route with the film,” Elice noted.
“The stage show has a much more ‘lean-in energy’ “ than the movie, he suggested. “It’s a lot of the same material – it just plays differently.”
How the idea to turn the story of the Four Seasons into a stage musical came to fruition is quite interesting. In 2000 Bob Gaudio, one of the group’s members, approached Brickman and Elice with the idea of creating a musical. According to Elice, at the time that Gaudio hooked up with Frankie Valli and two other guys to form the Four Seasons (Tommy DeVito and the late Nick Massi), Gaudio was “just a schmucky kid who just happened to show up and was just in the right place at the right time at the time that Frankie Valli and two other guys were looking for a fourth member to be a quartet because nobody was hiring trios any more.”
“They found this kid – Bob Gaudio, who had this gift of being able to write these incredibly hooky songs, so they went from being a cover-group trio to being a quartet with original songs just at the time as the British invasion was about to happen…in 1962. That set them apart from just about every other American group except for maybe the Beach Boys.”
I asked Elice whether it would be fair to say that Frankie Valli’s later success as a solo artist eclipsed the success that the Four Seasons had enjoyed as a group.
Elice compared the Four Seasons to the Supremes, noting that “the Supremes had a lot of hits before Diana Ross said: ‘Well, now it’s going to be called something else – my name is going to come out and it’s going to be Diana Ross and the Supremes.
“The Four Seasons had a lot of hits before it became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Frankie, like Diana Ross, had a solo recording career and a career with the group. But before that the Four Seasons were pretty popular. They sold like a hundred million records before it was Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
“Frankie Valli had this remarkable four-octave range and it was a unique sound…When they first came out as a group black stations thought they were an R & B group and white stations thought they were a pop group with a girl lead singer because Frankie’s voice was so high.”

The stage show of “Jersey Boys” tells the story of the Four Seasons through four different voices. I asked Elice how the idea of having different versions of what happened with the Four Seasons came into being.
Elice explained that  “what occurred to us listening to Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio was that they were constantly contradicting each other – the way you and I would contradict each other if we were telling stories about what happened to us 50 years ago...We were worried how we were going to determine what the true version actually was. And then we spoke to the third surviving member of the group (Tommy DeVito) – who’s the rogue of the group, the problem child of the group. This guy lives in Las Vegas and we got on the phone with him and he said: ‘Don’t listen to those other two guys. I’ll tell you what really happened.’
“And suddenly we decided ‘Maybe we don’t need to determine which version is the truth, maybe we can just present the story of the Four Seasons in four acts.’ ” Conveniently, says Elice, “mother nature has provided us with a very neat correlative in her four seasons.” He went on to explain that the spring was the “birth of the group, the summer was their coming into full bloom, winter was the falling apart of the original quartet, and the winter was the ‘winter of Frankie’s discontent’ as he tried to figure out his private life.”
“In each of those four sections we thought we’d have a narrator who would be a different person and there would be a narrative baton that would be passed along from one section to the next – and they would contradict each other as narrators the same way they would contradict each other in real life: ‘Don’t listen to that guy. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’ll tell you the real truth.’ So the audience gets to play along. It became kind of a fun theatrical structure to have narrators contradict each other.”
Elice went on to discuss the various changes that the show has undergone since it first opened ten years ago, noting that it’s essentially the same show with perhaps a bit more humour than when it first premiered. He did say that the British version had to have some major modifications as the name “Jersey” would have taken on a completely different meaning in Britain, where audiences would have wondered why there’s a show about one of the “Channel islands.”
“The tour that’s coming to Winnipeg is the best version that we’ve been able to come up with,” Elice suggested.  
Not only did Elice provide quite a detailed explanation how he and co-writer Brickman hit upon the idea of using four different narrators for “Jersey Boys”, toward the end of my interview with him he began to wax philosophical about the irony of the story of “first generation Italian high school dropouts” being  written by two “over educated, over privileged New York Jews.”
“We (Marshall Brickman and I) are the first to admit that we went in with our little New York attitude to meet them and, very quickly realized that, A. they have a great story to tell, and B. it’s a classic American story of achievement over adversity.”
I pointed out the affinity that Jews and Italians have often had for one another. Elice agreed, saying that “to be disenfranchised and to be marginalized in any way is to understand what it means to to be disenfranchised and to be marginalized in some other way.”
I didn’t mean for this article to get so deep, but when you speak with someone who speaks in fully formed sentences without hesitation and who can reflect so thoughtfully on how pop culture evolves, as much as “Jersey Boys” is sure to be a fun-filled experience, after having spoken with Elice, I realize that the story of the Four Seasons is a profound reflection of the American experience itself.

Add comment


Security code
Refresh