*Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons was part of the era that launched some of the best vocal groups ever and many record companies’ fortunes were built on Black groups. So much so, that when Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons went looking for a record deal, doors were shut in their faces because they were White. But that didn’t stop these New Jersey hopefuls, who knew the only way out of the projects and a life of crime was either joining the Army, the mob or becoming singing sensations.
Their rise to the top with hits such as “Shery,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Who Loves You,” and “Dawn,” has now been chronicled in not only a successful Broadway musical, but “Jersey Boys,” the captivating and electrifying film. As a doubting Thomas, I often wondered why the award winning Broadway show has survived eight years and still going strong. After seeing the movie that is not only buoyed by the music but a very engaging story, it is clear why “Jersey Boys” has such staying power.
Originally SONY passed on the option to do the film but Warner Bros. Pictures had enough smarts to jump at the opportunity. Director Clint Eastwood thought it a no-brainer to make “Jersey Boys” into a movie. “It’s been such a popular play and still is with touring companies,” he said in an interview here in New York City. “Why would you pass on that?” The timing was right for Eastwood since his project with Beyonce for “A Star is Born” had not come to fruition. “I had been entertaining the idea of doing a remake of ‘A Star is Born,’ of which I was a fan,” he explained, “and thought it would be interesting to do that from a modern day stand point. But that project is still not satisfactory in my mind, writing wise. I did some research and found ‘Jersey Boys’ was a lot more ready to go than the other project.”
Cast members John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Vinent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), Erich Bergen, and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi) joined the director and other filmmakers at the Waldorf Hotel recently to talk about “Jersey Boys” and impart some words of wisdom. In discussing the casting process, they let it be known you should never give up hope:
ERICH BERGEN: I heard ‘Jersey Boys’ was being made into a movie and I thought, ‘Well I hope they make a good movie and I’ll buy tickets along with the rest of us.’ The first time the movie came around it was set up with a different studio and a different director. I auditioned for it and about a week after my audition the casting director called my agent and said, ‘He’s not really right for the role. So, for a role, which I played for three years, yeah! So I’m glad that version didn’t happen and ‘Jersey Boys’ ended up in the proper hands, with the right writers and the right team this time.
MICAHEL LOMENDA: When Mr. Eastwood showed up at our performance, I thought the movie had been cast. As a Canadian with minimum film and TV experience it was a little bit off my radar so I gladly met him afterwards and didn’t expect to get a call. About three weeks later I got a call to audition. I went to New York that morning and it was pouring rain. I stood in Columbus Circle trying to catch a cab for about 45 minutes and was soak from head to toe. I arrived to my audition after $140 cab ride and late. During the cab ride, sitting there soaked I actually started thinking, ‘I should just get out of this cab. This isn’t working out. I should just get out,’ and something, thankfully—which is giving me chills now—and I don’t know what it was, but something stopped me and said, ‘No, you should go, you should really go.’ I went and got there finally about being a half hour late and looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and said, ‘You know what, you got this, you got this. You got 1200 performances under your belt and you should feel confident in that.’ I did, and I’m so grateful for it because about a month after that I got a call that I had booked the film.
JOHN LLOYD YOUNG: I was in the original cast of ‘Jersey Boys’ and caught wind Mr. Eastwood had been attached to the movie and was attending ‘Jersey Boys’ performances around the country. I also caught wind that he was going to be interviewed by Darren Aronofsky at the Tribeca Film Festival here in the city on a Saturday afternoon. I was doing one show a day at that time, so I had that Saturday afternoon free. My manager and I went and watched his interview. The next day in the wings before I was about to start work, the audience gave Clint Eastwood a standing ovation when they saw him walk in. It was a joyful performance because I felt no matter what would happen with the movie, it was great to have somebody who has dominion in his world and Hollywood seeing me in the one thing in my life so far that I know I have domino over, which is this role in this production on stage. Afterwards, I met him and said I enjoyed his interview with Darren Aronofsky. The next time I saw him was a month later on his set.
VINCENT PIAZZA: I was cast on the project without meeting Mr. Eastwood. I put in 12 hours a day in voice lessons, working with dance coaches and learning guitar chords. Speaking for myself, anytime you get a chance to play a great role, I try and to be thoughtful about what it says in the bigger picture.
In closing, Young was very mindful of Valli’s influences. “I just think that it’s so great to have been able to play a guy who is still out there,” he enthused, “still performing at 80 years old. I got to know Frankie Valli over the years and the first thing that he ever told me before we ever even opened the original production on Broadway after a rehearsal was that they’ll tell you no, but they can never get at this (pointing to his heart). In any creative endeavor, in any creative career there are ups and downs and during the downs I always remember what Frankie Valli said. ‘There’s always tomorrow and there’s always a new audience and there’s always a new project,’ and I’m so happy that this new project is the movie
‘Jersey Boys’ [laughs]. “Jersey Boys” also stars Christopher Walken and opens June 20th.
Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]