A few weeks ago, I wrote about some summer movies I was looking forward to and one that I was uncertain about. That movie was Jersey Boys and I was uncertain about it because it is the film version of the stage production by the same name which presents the history of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
The Four Seasons were one of America’s top groups. Between their first hit in 1962 and early 1964, only the Beach Boys could challenge them in record sales. Between 1962 and 1965, at least one, and often two, of their songs ranked in Billboard’s Top 3. In 1966, three of their songs were on Billboard’s Top 10. And as late as 1975 they had two songs (Who Loves You and December, 1963) in Billboard’s Top 3.
I saw the stage production of Jersey Boys in Las Vegas a few years ago and loved it. My experience has been that film versions of stage productions are not as compelling. Part of that is because, in my opinion, stage productions have relatively minimal sets and so the characters come to the forefront. Films are much more visual and that can detract from the characters. I’ve seen both the stage and film versions of Phantom and Mamma Mia! and prefer the stage versions.
But since Clint Eastwood directed the Jersey Boys film, and it’s a fascinating story, I decided to see it on opening day last Friday. My hopes for the film were boosted when I read in a review just hours before I saw the film that Frankie Valli is played by John Lloyd Young, who won a 2006 Tony for the same role in the Broadway production which won four 2006 Tony awards and has been on Broadway for nine years. (It is one of the top 15 longest running Broadway shows.)
Here’s John Lloyd Young and the rest of the Broadway cast, introduced by Joe Pesci, performing at the 2006 Tony awards ceremony.
Two of the other three Seasons (the bass guitarist and the keyboardist / songwriter) also played those roles in a Jersey Boys stage production and I’m pretty sure I saw the songwriter in the Vegas production. Casting three stage production members was a very smart decision by Clint.
Since I saw a Friday afternoon show, I didn’t expect (nor want) a large crowd. There were only about twenty of us in the theater and every one of us was a senior. During the film, a woman in my row a few seats away hummed or softly sang along with a few of the more upbeat songs.
I did notice two significant differences from the stage production. One I was a bit ambivalent about and the other was an enhancement that would have been difficult to incorporate into the stage version.
First, the role of a local Mob boss (played by Christopher Walken) is given more visual emphasis than in the stage production, which only alludes to this issue. For example, in the film, a “showdown” scene between the band members takes place at the Mob boss’ home but in the stage production only the band members are involved.
Second, the band’s record producer (Bob Crewe) has a significant role in the film and I do not even recall that he was in the stage production. However, the role works very well in the film and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is nominated for a “supporting actor” award. I don’t know if this was true or not, but in the film he is gay and does not attempt to disguise it and that seems historically inaccurate.
My verdict: not as good as the stage production but good enough, especially if you don’t think you’ll be able to see the stage production.