Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Jersey Boys"

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When it comes to musical tastes, I've always been what my grandmother called an "old soul." By the age of 4, I knew all the words to "Peppermint Twist." My first dance recital piece was an interpretative dance I choreographed to Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto." One of my favorite middle school memories is seeing Elton John and Billy Joel in concert. Though not necessarily a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, I was still intrigued by the idea of this movie, which is based on the Broadway show of the same title.

Jersey Boys begins in Belleville, New Jersey during the 1950's. Located just outside of Newark, it's a tough town. Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) explains via narration the three ways out of the neighborhood: "You join the Army and maybe get killed; you get mobbed up, maybe get killed that way. Or you get famous. For us, it was 2 outta the 3." Tommy and 16-year-old Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) are errand boys for local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Tommy also performs with his brother Nick in a group called the Variety Trio.

Tommy and Gyp both know that Frankie has musical talent. He manages to move the underworld boss to tears with his version of "In My Mother's Eyes." Frankie joins The Variety Trio and Tommy changes the name to The Four Lovers. Nick DeVito leaves the band (the movie is vague on when and why). The new group consists of Tommy, Frankie, and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda). Gyp helps The Four Lovers get nightclub gigs, even though Frankie is underage. Frankie soon changes his last name to Valli and falls in love with Mary Delgado (Renee Marino) and marries her.

The band undergoes several other name changes and doesn't manage to find success. They're eventually introduced to singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), who becomes the fourth member of the group. They sign with producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), but only as backup singers for others bands; he says they're too derivative to make it on their own and the constant name changes would confuse people. After failing to secure a gig at the Four Seasons bowling alley, the band comes up with their new, permanent name. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons soon top the charts, thanks to Bob writing their hits "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like a Man." The rest of the movie follows the band through the rigors of touring, the personal problems and in-fighting that lead to their break-up, and their eventual reunion.

There are no A-listers among the cast (with the exception of Christopher Walken), just stage actors. John Lloyd Young reprises his role from the Broadway version of Jersey Boys. I can't imagine them casting anyone else as Frankie Valli. Not only is John handsome and charismatic, he also manages to replicate Frankie's signature falsetto. Using veteran Broadway performers insured that the musical numbers were close to perfection. My judgment of what makes a good musical is admittedly very subjective: Does listening to the songs give me chills? Every time the movie's Four Seasons performed, I got goosebumps and the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

If I had to pick out one thing I really didn't like about the movie, it would be the narration. The majority of movies use voiceover to fill the audience in on the details. Jersey Boys handles it differently. The actors speak directly to the camera during various scenes; this is jarring and disturbs the flow of the movie.

I highly recommend this to music buffs and anyone else who enjoys a good biopic, even if you weren't alive when Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons topped the charts. I was the youngest person by far in the theater and enjoyed myself immensely. In the words of a fellow theater-goer, "If you come out singing, you know it was good."

P.S. Keep an sharp eye out for a cameo by director Clint Eastwood.

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