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Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys" a faithful adaptation of Broadway musical


When I first saw the previews for the movie adaption of Jersey Boys, I was intrigued and a little bit curious. After all, I never gave much thought that Hollywood would attempt to successfully adapting the long-running, Tony Award-winning musical to the big screen. Better yet, as respectable of a director as Clint Eastwood is, his name isn’t necessarily the first that comes to mind in regards to handling a task such as this.


When a long-running stage show is developed for the silver screen, immediate questions arise. What actors who aren’t natural singers will replace the original Broadway performers and not bludgeon the musical numbers?  Can the director recapture the same magic of what gave its stage predecessor its special appeal? Will the theatrics of the stage translate well enough to even warrant a full length motion picture? And what director is bold enough to even take on such a project? Jersey Boys isn’t perfect, but despite a few tweaks on Eastwood’s end, the essence of what made the stage show so successful actually does work in a movie version. Photo: www.kontrolmag.com

The storyline is the same: Belleville, New Jersey in 1951, where small-time hustler Tommy Devito (Vincent Piazza) performs in a local band while running errands for Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a local mobster. Devito takes notice of a younger neighborhood kid by the name of Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young), whose singing talent is noticeable even at his young age.


Devito takes Castelluccio under his wing, but not before Devito “goes away for a while” (a harbinger of things to come for him) and Castelluccio almost follows his path. Eventually, Devito gets released from jail and a fellow neighborhood kid named Joe Pesci (yes, THAT Joe Pesci, played by Joseph Russo) introduces Devito, Castelluccio and bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) to Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a young but already successful songwriter and musician. Formerly The Four Lovers, once Devito agrees to Gaudio joining their band on his terms, Castelluccio becomes Frankie Valli, and after seeing their future moniker on the sign of a bowling alley, The Four Seasons are born.


Despite the group’s status as eventual Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, the road to the top wasn’t always that easy. While the movie momentarily captures the group enjoying the fringe benefits of their success, the onus mainly focuses on the obstacles they encountered on the way to superstardom, the pressures of staying at the top of the music business once they’ve arrived, and the ultimate and sometimes dire consequences of the price of fame. The rags to riches story of The Four Seasons is just as well documented as their enduring popularity, especially the personal lives and friendships within the band were fractured. This includes Valli’s dysfunctional home life and subsequent divorce, followed by Devito’s continuously unsavory activities, which irreparably damaged the relationship between the members of the group.


While one wouldn’t naturally think Dirty Harry himself would be the customary choice selected to handle this task, Eastwood makes it work. In the process, he removes some of the light-hearted sugarcoating of Broadway to give the screen adaptation a slightly more realistic tone. This enables Eastwood to elaborate on scenes that would normally be cut short for Broadway time constraints while maintaining the essence of a Broadway show. At the same time, each member of The Four Seasons breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewer during particular points in the film. Although this doesn’t always seem necessary, it remains faithful to the stage performance and gives the film character. Photo: hollywoodlife.com


Of course, every transition of a book or musical comes the alteration or dramatization, and Jersey Boys is no exception. The robbery scene at the beginning of the movie seems a little contrived. Moreover, Valli and bandmate-songwriter Bob Gaudio are the film’s executive producers. Whether it’s coincidental or not, the pair easily come off looking like they have it together the most when compared to fellow members Devito and Nick Massi. While it would have been interesting to focus a little more of the group’s resurgence in the mid-1970’s as opposed to focusing on Valli’s developing solo career (including an overproduced version of “Can’t Take my Eyes Off You’, as well as a personal tragedy that occurred in Valli’s life many years later than the film indicates), you can only squeeze so much into a two-hour film without altering its course. While the song selection is excellent, the music serves more as a conduit to engage the audience during the film’s key plot transitions.  

Eastwood reportedly stood out of the way and let his actors perform all of their musical numbers live, which was perfect for Young, who won a Tony in 2006 for his portrayal of Valli for the Broadway version of Jersey Boys. Young, in just his second film role, seamlessly translates the character to the silver screen with relative ease. Meanwhile, Piazza, the only cast member of the Four Seasons with no previous association with Jersey Boys, brings the same grit and humor (with slightly less tenacity) to Devito’s character as he does in his role as Lucky Luciano in Boardwalk Empire. Bergen's Gaudio is the steadiest presence throughout the group’s trials and tribulations. As the youngest member but chief brainchild of the group, he keeps his feet firmly planted while weathering some of the group’s nastiest storms. While motion picture newcomer Lomenda compliments his bandmates nicely as bassist Massi, Walken’s DeCarlo brings a touch of levity to some of the film’s more intense moments, and even manages to participate in a dance scene! 

Once you immerse yourself in the movie, it honestly isn’t all that different from seeing Jersey Boys in your local theater. While the obsessed, die-hard fans of the musical may find some odds and ends that they feel could have been done differently, with an excellent song selection and consistent pacing that roughly equals the Broadway show, you can’t go wrong with the movie adaptation of Jersey Boys. Those unfamiliar with the stage version might be inclined to see what the fuss is all about after watching the film, and those familiar with the stage version could easily be inclined to see either version again.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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 First photo: kontrolmag.com

Second photo: hollywoodlife.com