Being the avid fan of musical theatre that I am, I’d be lying if I told you that the thought of a musical I love being made into a film didn’t fill me with at the very least a little apprehension. On the one hand, I do think it’s fantastic that the film might encourage more people to see the show thus keeping the theatre alive and also be there in a different form for future generations to enjoy, but there’s always that nagging sensation in the back of my mind: what if it’s altered beyond all recognition and I hate it? Will it do the musical justice?
From personal experience, if you think about these thorny questions too much it can drive you crazy but if a musical is beloved and important to you, it’s neigh on impossible to stop yourself; this is exactly the dilemma I had when I first heard Clint Eastwood was adapting Jersey Boys for the screen. I only saw the musical for the first time on my birthday last year, and ever since I’ve been wondering why on earth it took me so long, as now I can’t imagine my theatre going calendar without it being there. It gives me a sense of pure joy by combining a story didn’t know but now love, some incredible songs and introducing me to some of the gentlemen and ladies that I believe are among the most talented and genuinely lovely people on the West End stage right now, and I’m forever grateful for that. That in mind, it’s definitely safe to say that Eastwood’s big screen venture had a lot to live up to; but film and theatre being the two entirely unique and wonderful beasts that they are, I for one certainly think he did a brilliant job of demonstrating that it’s possible to get the best of both worlds.
My first hats off to Mr Eastwood must go to the fact that I felt the film showed a tremendous amount of respect for the musical by keeping its script largely intact. Where it is changed (and I’ll talk about some of the changes in detail a little later), there are still loads of subtle nods to the stage show throughout, which I appreciated greatly. It must be a difficult task, trying to please the fans of the show and appeal to a wider audience, all to a soundtrack that helped define a generation and still to this day resonates with and means a lot to so many people, so my second hats off goes to the casting process. The film features many actors that have treaded the boards in the various incarnations of the musical and this was music to my ears. In my mind, it makes them a triple threat: they can sing, act and in something I personally look for as a big fan of the show: they know and understand the people they portray on a level that makes me want to connect with them and what they went through. So, without further ado, let me turn to the film’s Four Seasons!
John Lloyd Young reprises his multi award winning role as Frankie Valli, the role he originated on Broadway. I was unfortunately not lucky enough to catch him when he opened the show when it moved home in London in March, but his performance in the film made it pretty clear to me why he was chosen, and a mighty fine choice it is. Not only is he vocally brilliant from start to finish, to me he gave a wonderfully sincere and beautifully nuanced performance. An element I love about the show is that the characters grow and mature throughout, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, Frankie in particular. He grows from a naïve teenager into a husband, lover, father and superstar, and John is able to pull each off with endearing charm and likeability, though I will say that for me personally I preferred watching him act the older Valli when he becomes more jaded about life, he captivated and broke my heart in equal measure. This was probably also down to the fact that the film is able to give more depth to an element that the stage show is only able to briefly touch upon: Frankie’s relationship with his daughter Francine (older Francine played by Freya Tingley) The show features a song called Fallen Angel which is cut from the film, much to my disappointment, it’s a favourite of mine. In context, the song is sung by Frankie shortly after hearing of his daughter’s death. What the film does is different, but equally heartbreaking: In one of my favourite scenes, Frankie asks a ‘heavy’ to bring Francine to him and he tries to have a heart to heart talk with her about wanting more out of life after she starts mixing with the wrong people. At the end of his gentle lecture, she begins to cry and he reaches for her hand. He looks at her with such love and concern in his eyes and says: ‘I’m really glad you’re here with me’. It made the later scene at Francine’s funeral with a shot of Frankie sitting alone and devastated all the more heart wrenching. The film also features some lovely scenes between father and the younger versions of his daughter that I loved. My other big favourite from the show: Beggin’ is also cut, but in the grand scheme of things my disappointment was short lived.
Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda also reprise the roles they have played on the stage, including the 1st National US tour of the production, and I thought they were both completely superb as Bob Gaudio & Nick Massi, respectively. Erich captivated me as the sweet and initially shy ‘voice of reason’ in the band, sometimes with nothing more than a look. The first time we hear Bob sing (Cry for Me) was also my first time hearing Erich singing, and (to use a phrase from the show and the film) my hand to God, to me his voice is like liquid gold: pure and beautiful. I loved how the film is able to give more of an insight into the dynamic of the band, adding little elements that we don’t see onstage, especially when it comes to Frankie and Bob’s friendship; my favourite involving a scarf and an order not to catch Pneumonia.
Michael took all I adore about Nick Massi as he is onstage, and bought it and so much more to the screen. His ’ten years!’ rant now rivals current London Nick Massi Matt Nalton’s for my favourite delivery, and as with Frankie & Bob’s developed friendship on screen it was wonderful to see the tensions between Nick & Tommy played out – the ‘towel’ scene was a favourite- I loved how you could see Nick beginning to crack before he finally explodes, and again as with Erich, Michael was effortless at grabbing my attention with both his body language and his singing voice.
Vincent Piazza was probably the performance that most intrigued and surprised me. I love Tommy in the show. He’s incredibly cocky and though I know this should irritate me, I can’t help but love him. Vincent’s portrayal took Tommy to what I felt was a much darker and complex place. For want of a better way of explaining, I think the film makes him more of an asshole, and I didn’t take to him like I do in the show. However, far from being a completely bad thing, the fact I didn’t like him was what I grew to enjoy, it was refreshing and for somebody with no previous training, Vincent did a fine job on the vocal front. The four had great chemistry and I believed every minute of their performances.
Other standout favourites for me were the great Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo and Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe, the latter of which had me in stitches on many an occasion!
The film is much grittier and moodier than its stage counterpart, but I think that’s to its credit, after all they are different mediums and focus on different things, things get added, cut, developed in a film, whereas onstage you get one shot to give that particular audience your best in that moment. More importantly though, by the end of the film, I was still left with a huge grin and could be found singing and dancing along to the credits, and other moments, and when you consider how much I love the musical, trust me that is really saying something!