I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen Jersey Boys.The last time I’ve seen it was at the Colonial Theatre, a few blocks away from the AMC Boston Commons, where I ended up seeing the film version on opening night. I usually open up these reviews with memories and sentiments I associate with the show. I have too many to name – I’ve been a part of this fandom for so long that I do not know where to begin. I will say this though – it was the show that got me through a dark time in my life, the music and the men really helped me through it all. As dramatic as the story is, what I have always appreciated about the creative people behind Jersey Boys is that they really appreciate their fans. There’s been countless times I’ve been at the stage door – we’ll have some small talk (best one was when Taylor Sternberg said he loved “goth loli” when I wore an outfit I made to the show) and have a photo op. These are some of the nicest (famous) people I’ve ever met and I’ve been fortunate to have stayed in touch with these gents.
With that said, I’ve been waiting for the movie for some time time. When I heard it was green lit and ready to go, I could only wonder how a film adaptation would go. There have been some amazing stage to screen adaptations in recent years (Chicago, Hairspray, Dreamgirls) and some awful ones (The Producers, Rent). Considering how Jersey Boys is structured like Rashomon – four different guys, four different stories. Not to mention, there are a ton of meta moments in the show where the cast talks to the audience. I’ve been waiting for this movie for years now and suffice to say, as a fan of the show, satisfied with the results.
I really liked the fact that people who have had stage experience were cast as the Four Seasons. Not only members of the original Broadway cast, but we also had people who were involved in the national touring companies. It was a real delight to see these people create the roles again for the screen. John Lloyd Young starred as Frankie Valli, his best parts were in the beginning as a fledgling singer. You knew he had potential, but the young Frankie still had ways to go. I also liked the additions of the scenes between Frankie and his daughter, though I could listen to JL sing oldies all day, he’s an amazing performer and I’d love to see him in more on screen roles. Erich Bergen played Bob Gaudio, the creative force behind the Four Seasons, like he did in the productions I’ve seen of Jersey Boys (Orange County, Las Vegas). In my old blog, I described his stage presence as the “adorable dork.” He has some of the best facial expressions in reaction shots – most notably in the scene where he gets laid for the first time. Michael Lomenda (I was quite surprised I saw him in Boston a year ago, but didn’t know!) plays Nick very cool, but you know there’s something up with him. Likewise, his best scene is the “sit down” at Gyp DeCarlo’s; it’s awesome to hear him telling off Tommy of all the times he drove him insane. To have Christopher Walken tell you that you’re insane is one hell of a reaction!
Vincent Piazza played Tommy DeVito. I did like how he portrayed him and how his character set the tone for the movie. You see the rough and tumble that is Belleville in the mid 20th century. You see all of the racketeering and shenanigans through his point of view. I liked the additional bits and pieces to expand Tommy DeVito; added lines and just how Vincent played him up to be more rough and tumble. For fans of the show, he has Jeremy Kushnier’s cool factor and a touch of Deven May’s bad boy side. Christopher Walken essentially played Gyp DeCarlo like Christopher Walken. I can’t really complain about this one. Anything with Christopher Walken as a mob boss seems fitting enough; he delivers certain lines differently from other Gyp’s I’ve seen on stage. My favorite one is “stay out of the bathroom.” However, like Tommy, I like how they also expanded on Gyp – he was always with the boys from beginning to nearly the very end. You see Frankie him giving him a shave in the opening sequence and and small interactions through the entire movie. It’s very subtle in the movie, but can argue that he was both a Godfather to the Four Seasons in all sense of the word. Other notable performances included Renée Marino as Frankie’s wife, Mary. I just loved how she starts off as a sassy bombshell (and she’s gougeous!) and then plays off as a doped up Jersey housewife. Mike Doyle’s “theatrical” performance as Bob Crewe was everything I hoped it to be; he plays the flaming recording producer with flair – his scenes with Erich Bergen are hilarious!
As far as a stage to screen adaptation goes, this is done very well. While I do have a few nitpicks (really wanted to see “December 1963” as it was on stage!), you still get the grit that goes on stage. The Cinema Snob describes this as “Goodfellas meets That Thing You Do,” which is a fair description of the film adaptation. I like how the world looks – it feels we’re looking into how the time period looked like. It’s not super high definition, but the colors and feel of the world is very spot on to the time period. Major critics complained that the movie doesn’t live up to musical-movie standards, in the sense that everything has to be bright and shiny. It just doesn’t work for this type of setting. You need to show the world where Tommy, Nick, and Frankie grew up – it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows – I really did like seeing shots of the old neighborhood and seeing how their problems followed them even in their professional careers. I can understand some songs being cut for time or used as background songs, it just makes the world feel more natural. While it does feel more “biopic” than “musical” who says it can’t be both? I enjoyed the vocal performances (and understood why some had to be cut short or faded in) and I also liked the mixing of actual Four Seasons songs in the background. Most notably, I did like JL singing “My Eyes Adored You” to young Francine as a bedtime lullaby, I thought it was cute and it made her death hit a little more. I know that “Fallen Angel” was recorded for the movie, and I wonder if that was actually used in the funeral scene. I also loved the ending credits where the entire ensemble goes into “December 1963,” it’s fun and uplifting…you really see everyone involved in the picture really shine. I’m really looking forward owning a copy of the soundtrack!
Jersey Boys may not be for all audiences, but if you do enjoy music from the time period or stories about the drama that goes behind the scenes with musicians, this is a good one to watch on it’s own. The actors are a delight to watch and I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles. While A-list Hollywood actors may have boosted the box office scores, I did prefer seeing people who have performed these roles multiple times and that more people can see these performances immortalized. As an adaptation, it’s decent and I’d place it in my top 10. Don’t expect a full blown musical, but do expect some awesome performances. I never really classified Jersey Boys as a jukebox musical; it’s more biographical using the music to tell the story of the band. Both the movie and the stage show can be enjoyed on their own terms. Neither is superior to the other, they’re just different experiences.
Thank you everyone in Jersey Boys – the creative team, the players, the fans – for being an amazing part in my life as a fangirl. Even though current box office numbers are low, you guys will always have my support and love. You’re always amazing to the fans and we’ll never take our eyes off of you!
PS: John Lloyd Young actually did answer a question I brought up on BroadwayWorld. Click here to see what other Four Seasons song he would have like to have sung in Jersey Boys!
PPS: And as a purveyor of vintage and mid-century fashion, I want what Renee Marino is wearing at the pizza parlor and what Nick’s date is wearing at the church.