Jersey Boys: Eastwood Directs a Musical

“Jersey Boys” tells of the rise and fall of the iconic rock ‘n’ roll group The Four Seasons.

While reminding audiences why their songs have remained in the public consciousness—some for more than half a century—the movie also reveals the origins of this seemingly clean-cut, all-American rock band.

The film is based on the Tony Award-winning, smash hit musical, which has struck a chord with audiences worldwide, becoming one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history and a sensation in virtually every city in which the show has been mounted, both in the U.S. and abroad.  Now director Clint Eastwood broadens the canvas and brings all the joy and heartbreak, the music and the memories, to the big screen for moviegoers everywhere.

Eastwood, who also produced the film with Graham King and Robert Lorenz, offers that it was the drama behind the jackets and ties and four-part harmonies that intrigued him most.  “I have always loved the music of The Four Seasons, so I knew it would be fun to revisit that, but what mainly interested me was how these semi-juvenile delinquents, who didn’t grow up under the best of circumstances, made it big.  They were living on the periphery of the mob, pulling off petty crimes and what have you.  Some had even done jail time.  Then the music came and pulled them out.  It gave them something to strive for.”

Producer Graham King estimates he has seen the stage show “Jersey Boys” between 30 and 40 times, but says it didn’t take him nearly that long to recognize its cinematic potential.  “I fell in love with it the first time I saw it,” he attests.  “I knew the songs of The Four Seasons, but I couldn’t believe I knew nothing of their real story.  For someone like me, who loves making movies like ‘The Departed’ and ‘The Town’ and films of that genre, it was perfect because it had that Mafia, street-smart aspect, and then you incorporate the songs from that period.  It had all the right elements for a terrific film.”

By far, the most distinctive element of The Four Seasons’ sound was the falsetto tenor of Frankie Valli.  John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the celebrated lead singer and reprises his role in the film, states, “The songs are part of the tapestry of that era, but the lyrics are still relatable to everyone today and the melodies are so infectious.  But I think the underbelly of their rise to fame is what’s fascinating.  These were scrappy, rough-and-tumble Jersey guys with a dream, who took the energy of the Jersey streets to the recording studio and became a phenomenon.  It’s the quintessential rags-to-riches story.”

Eastwood relates, “Frankie Valli told me that to be a singer in that neighborhood in those years was hard.  Just singing under the streetlights, they endured a lot of ridicule…until they became a big hit, of course.  But they had to have a great deal of perseverance to get through that.”

And beyond.  Producer Robert Lorenz affirms, “Their struggles did not end with the start of their success.  With the money and the fame came new problems—personal and professional—that they weren’t prepared for.  They were trying to get away from the neighborhood, but found they could never entirely escape its influence on them and on who they were.”

“The juxtaposition of their music and their lives was remarkable,” says Rick Elice, who, together with Marshall Brickman, wrote the screenplay for “Jersey Boys,” having previously earned a Tony Award nomination for the book of the musical.  He continues, “The songs are these great, upbeat pop classics, but the guys behind them were from a tough neighborhood where the bond they forged is like iron.  They are not related by blood, but they are as close as family and sometimes just as dysfunctional.  We wanted the script to be the strongest possible telling of that story, with the music of The Four Seasons serving as landmarks along the journey.”

The music was one of the main reasons King approached Eastwood to direct the film.  “Clint is an incredible filmmaker and I knew he had a love for music, especially jazz,” says King.  “The sound of The Four Seasons came out of the jazz and big band era, so I felt this would be in his wheelhouse. Out of the blue, I sent him the screenplay and within two days he called and said he wanted to make the movie.”

At the time, Eastwood had not seen the show, but he quickly remedied that, catching the Las Vegas, San Francisco and Broadway productions in quick succession.  As it turned out, those were the first round of auditions for the director.

Bringing the musical to the screen, the filmmakers drew a number of talents from the theatrical productions, including several members of the cast.  In addition to Young as Valli, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda returned to the roles of original Four Seasons members Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, respectively, having played their parts in the national touring company.

Joining the band for the first time, Vincent Piazza took on the role of Tommy DeVito, another of the group’s founding members.  Eastwood also cast award-winning actor Christopher Walken as local mob kingpin Gyp DeCarlo.

Behind the scenes, Eastwood enlisted the show’s original musical director Ron Melrose to serve as music consultant on the film, as well as choreographer Sergio Trujillo.  The real Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio served as executive producers, with Gaudio, together with lyricist Bob Crewe, also credited with writing the unforgettable playlist of Four Seasons hits.

One unexpected device taken directly from the show is the fact that the actors break the proverbial “fourth wall”—talking right to the camera and, thus, right to the audience.  “Each member of The Four Seasons is telling the story from his own point of view,” Elice explains.  “We weren’t sure it would work on screen to this extent, but, lucky for us, Clint’s a genius.  It’s an interesting structure and it’s also very engaging to have the characters speaking directly to us at times; it makes the film a very first-person, interactive experience and pulls us into the story emotionally.”

Marshall Brickman adds, “Because film is so much more flexible than theatre in terms of storytelling, as well as moving between settings and locations, we were able to go deeper and show more of their world, with those memorable songs always carrying us forward.”

King points out that people today still know the songs—from dozens of movie soundtracks over the past four decades to contemporary remixes.  “It’s amazing how their music transcends the years.  Just a few years ago, my kid was listening to ‘Beggin΄’ by Madcon, having no idea it was originally a Four Seasons hit.”

Eastwood agrees.  “There are so many wonderful songs: ‘Sherry,’ ‘Rag Doll,’ ‘My Eyes Adored You,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ ‘Walk Like a Man,’ ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’…  And each was distinctly different, even though they all had the imprint of The Four Seasons on them.  Every day of filming, there would be a new favorite.  They’d sing ‘Dawn’ and we couldn’t stop humming that.  Then we’d go back and film another scene with ‘Rag Doll,’ and it would take over and we’d be humming that.  It was great fun.”