I can understand the appeal of a jukebox musical on Broadway. In a way, it’s just a concert, albeit for cover artists, with a little bit of story thrown in for fun — like skits on a rap record. On the big screen, though, they just can’t be as enjoyable. There’s no live performance and, unless you find just the right movie theater or wait a number of years for a Drafthouse sing-a-long screening, there’s none of the same audience vibe you get with the real deal. I’m sure the stage incarnation of Jersey Boys is a really good time. The movie version, on the other hand, looks like a real bore of a biopic with an imitation soundtrack. It seems so generic that they’ve probably even thrown in a token sibling death for Frankie Valli.
This evening we got our best look yet at the adaptation, directed by none other than Clint Eastwood. And by the look of this new trailer, Jersey Boys looks like a cheap TV series knocking off the period-set popularity of Mad Men. That is especially disappointing, because Eastwood and cinematographer Tom Stern have made some great historical dramas together, including Letters From Iwo Jima and Changeling, for which Stern received an Oscar nomination. In fact, Eastwood’s usual visuals team is here — costume designer Deborah Hopper, art director Patrick M. Sullivan Jr., effects supervisor Steve Riley — so why doesn’t this look like it fits with the rest? Why does it look like something made for cable?
At least Christopher Walken is in it?
Jersey Boys is the story of Valli and his group The Four Seasons. In the early days, though, not during the time I’d like to know more about them: the ’80s and ’90s when their songs were not only receiving a resurgence in popularity through soundtrack licensing but were also being employed as movie titles (Walk Like a Man; Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even). The quartet is being portrayed on film by different guys than those in Broadway version, except John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for his role as Valli. There’s Boardwalk Empire‘s Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito and relative newcomers Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi. The one I’m most interested in, though, is Joey Russo, who is portraying a young Joe Pesci.
The original show, which can still be seen in New York City and elsewhere, was nominated for eight Tony Awards and in addition to Young’s honor it picked up another three wins, including Best Musical and Best Featured Actor, the latter for DeVito portrayer Christian Hoff. At this point, I don’t expect the movie version to receive any equivalent at the Oscars, but hopefully I’m wrong. Let’s not forget that Rock of Ages also earned a bunch of Tony nominations, albeit none that it won, before bombing in cinematic form. The same goes for Mamma Mia!, save for the bombing part — actually that one was a pretty humongous worldwide hit. But it felt more like a big movie than Rock of Ages and Jersey Boys. I just think some of these jukebox musicals should be happy with their Broadway success and not try to go Hollywood.
To quote a Four Seasons song, I offer this advice to productions to remain where they make sense: “Stay, just a little bit longer. Please, please, please, please, please, tell me that you’re going to.”