‘Jersey Boys’ captures highs, lows of Four Seasons

Photo provided by Joan Marcus -- A dozen Four Seasons hits are in the libretto of 'Jersey Boys,' the story of the top-selling but troubled 1960s hit vocal quartet.
Photo provided by Joan Marcus -- A dozen Four Seasons hits are in the libretto of 'Jersey Boys,' the story of the top-selling but troubled 1960s hit vocal quartet.

Show runs Jan. 8-27 at Mahalia Jackson Theater

Like their namesake, the careers and personal lives of the members of the 1960s hit vocal group the Four Seasons ran hot and cold and everything in between.

One of the top-selling acts of the pre-Beatles era and afterward, the successes of their songs and live performances were very public. Not so for their turbulent private lives, which remained hidden for four decades.

That all changed with the premiere of the hit musical “Jersey Boys” in 2004 at a small playhouse in La Jolla, Calif. When it landed on Broadway a year later, the world finally learned what really went on behind the scenes of the commercial success of four young Italian-American “boys” from Newark, N.J.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was real. The talented, seemingly cohesive unit that recorded thirty Top 40 records and performed around the world was, in reality, a frequently divisive cadre of temperamental, troubled young men who somehow managed to stay together long enough to sell 175 million records and sing their way into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

While the group was struggling for name recognition and a hit record through the 1950s, some of them were having personal issues with each other and brushes with the law — as well as with known gangsters.

By the time their career finally began to soar, they were in the hole to the mob for a million dollars. Much of this comes out in the dramatization, which is billed as “not just another jukebox musical.”

Winner of four Tony Awards, including “Best New Musical” (2005), “Jersey Boys” makes its New Orleans premiere Tuesday at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Presented by the Broadway in New Orleans series, it continues through 18 day and night performances that wrap up on Jan. 27.

Between 1962 and the end of that decade, and again in the mid-’70s, the Four Seasons churned out one hit record after another. Three of their first four singles — “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” — rose to No. 1 on the pop charts.

Led by the unmistakable falsetto of lead singer Frankie Valli and backed by Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, the Four Seasons were “American idols” long before the expression morphed into popular usage.

“Jersey Boys” director Des McAnuff recalled how it all began. As the former longtime artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse, he reviewed a treatment of the show by its writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and “initially was not that enamored about it.”

However, the persistence of the writers and his good friend and producer, Michael David, soon convinced McAnuff to get creatively involved with the production.

“We had a meeting of the minds and hammered out an outline together that deviated somewhat from their original treatment,” McAnuff said.

When a more detailed treatment came back to him he was “blown away” by it. “They did such a terrific job that I put it immediately into production before there was even a script,” McAnuff said.

The show is broken down into four scenes — spring, summer, fall and winter — with each narrated by a member of the main cast: John Gardiner (DeVito), Miles Jacoby (Gaudio), Michael Lomenda (Massi) and Nick Cosgrove (Valli). About a dozen Four Seasons songs are in the libretto.

Getting the approval of the surviving members of the original Four Seasons — Valli, Gaudio and DeVito — and their main writer/producer Bob Crewe, proved to be surprisingly easy, considering that this was a no-holds-barred production.

The singers eventually worked off their debt to the mob, but not before the group experienced some bitter personnel changes.

“You have to be willing to tell the story,” Valli said in an interview quoted in a hardbound book that promotes the show. “There are a lot of people who are not willing to tell their story. They feel that there may be things that are too revealing. If they happened, you shouldn’t be embarrassed. That’s life.”

Dean Shapiro is a contributing writer. He can be reached at deanslist2@aol.com.