Last week, on Wednesday, June 29, I went with my friend Lauren and her family to see the Broadway show Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in the August Wilson Theatre. I actually liked it way more than I had expected considering what I have heard about it and the music genre, the oldies. I mean, I never disliked their music, but let's just say they would never really be my first preference. But at least I heard of them and listened to their music from time to time. Lauren's twelve-year-old cousin did not know who they were and during intermission while I was waiting in line for the bathroom, a girl in front of me, who seemed to be around my age, asked her mom "Was his (Frankie Valli) voice really that nasally?" I was really shocked to hear this because it seems to me that a portion of my generation hasn't heard of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Have they never listened to the radio? I mean, I grew up with their music in addition to other music and was well in tuned with the distinct voice of Frankie Valli. It's not like the group is that old either for them to not be acknowledged by my generation.
The play opened up with a black guy and three French girls rapping "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," one the Four Seasons' singles. Um, not exactly the kind of opening one would expect in a musical about a sixties Italian-American pop group from New Jersey. Thankfully, walking Jersey Italian stereotype Tommy DeVito, played by Dominic Nolfi, entered the scene and explained what was happening to ease our confusion. Apparently the black guy and French girls were singing a Paris 2000 remake of the original from years ago. They exited and you never saw this foursome again in the play. It was a random opening, but it does get you pumped for the rest of the musical and it was an energetic opening number, so I liked it. Once DeVito entered, the play had the Jersey Italian aura I was expecting.
Let me go back to the Jersey Italian stereotype that DeVito and the rest of the characters seem to represent. Now here is a guy who had everything covered to satisfy the stereotype: the dialect, the hair, the attitude, and the uh, hehe, life of crime. See now, this is part of the reason why I was never really interested in seeing Jersey Boys. I remember around the time the musical first premiered people from New Jersey criticized this, and now after I saw it I feel that their accusations were proven correct! As an Italian from New Jersey, I find this kind of behavior somewhat offensive. I mean, if Tommy DeVito literally acted and sounded this way in real life and Nolfi is portraying him correctly, then that's fine. I have no problem with that. However, if the characters are acting this way because it is assumed by everyone that that is how Italians from Jersey act, then that's not right in my opinion.
At first I didn't think the show was going to be that good because of this and considering how it was choppy at beginning with its quick scenes portraying Frankie Valli's (who at the time was known as Francis Castelluccio before he changed his name) teenage years, the role played by Dominic Scaglione, Jr., and how Tommy DeVito took him under his wing to prepare him for the music business and acted as a big brother figure. However, the show worked its way up and was ultimately very relatable with the Jersey references and mannerisms. Tommy DeVito (who, according to my father, owned a pizzeria around the corner from my grandparent's house with his brother Joey) is actually from Belleville, New Jersey, which is where Lauren and her family are from, so this and many other Jersey references in the show really hit "home" for us. There was even a brief mention of Bloomfield, MY hometown! :)
Scaglione did a magnificent portrayal of Frankie Valli. It seems to me that Frankie Valli would be a difficult guy to cast considering his voice pitch and short height, but Scaglione had Valli down pat! In fact, after seeing footage and photos of the actual Four Seasons, everybody was accurately portayed height-wise and had a lot of other similar features!
What I liked too about the musical is that it displayed a pretty decent background story for the Four Seasons. Of course, they did hit snags in the road and had to work up to their life of fame like most artists, but their story as a whole was very heartwarming and humorous, making the show very comfortable to watch. Of course, to be safe, I'll also mention that there was a lot of adult related material as well.
What I found most interesting of all was discovering the origins of different Four Seasons songs and the group's general background. For example:
- Did you know that a well known actor from Jersey actually introduced DeVito, Valli, and Nick Massi, the third original member (Matt Bogart), to their fourth original member and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Ryan Jesse)?
- Did you know that Gaudio wrote a famous Four Seasons song on his way to a group practice because he thought about it on his way there and jotted it down because he didn't want to forget it?
- Did you know that Gaudio wrote a song because he was inspired by a line in a movie?
- Did you know that a song Gaudio wrote specifically for Valli and had so much confidence that it was going to be a hit almost never saw the light of day?
These and much more I learned from this musical! If you want to learn more Four Seasons trivia, and also gain a new appreciation for their music like I have, I recommend you go see Jersey Boys!!! :D