Seasons Turn on Broadway

Words & Music – By Jim Bessman

“I like being an underdog in New York, because New Yorkers love an underdog,” says Bob Gaudio, applying an appropriate truism to the Nov. 6 Broadway opening of “Jersey Boys.”

The musical about the Four Seasons, the legendary 1960’s vocal group that Gaudio co-founded starts previews Oct. 4 at the Virginia Theatre.

The plays “underdog” status comes because “Jersey Boys” follows the musicals “Good Vibrations” and “Lennon,” both of which received lackluster reception. However, “Jersey Boys” comes with strong advance word. The play enjoyed an extended run at the La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse, where scalpers, Gaudio reports, got $200 per ticket.

“We get hit with the ‘jukebox musical’ label, but (book authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) and (director) Des McAnuff accomplished a 50-50 split between music and drama,” says Gaudio, who wrote many of the Four Seasons classic hits with producer Bob Crewe. “The music is very important, but the history of the group makes it a great piece of theatre.”

Gaudio likens “Jersey Boys” to “a musical ‘Rocky’ in that the Four Seasons came from the neighborhood and worked through all the crap that we had to do,” he says. “But we weren’t a phenomenon like The Beatles or Elvis Presley or The Rolling Stones: we were only as good as our last hit. We lived on our music and couldn’t slide on anything- and this show is that story.”

The struggling quartet did back-up vocals for Crewe productions while lead singer Frankie Valli (with whom Gaudio remains partners) “knocked on a lot of doors” until Gaudio penned the group’s 1962 breakthrough hit, “Sherry.”

“We weren’t kids, and not too many odds were in our favor,” Gaudio says. “We didn’t look the part of a rock group by any stretch. We played the Copa and Walter Winchell said it was a good show but (that) we looked like two bookies, a jockey, and a basketball player!”

What they lacked in the looks department, the Four Seasons, which also included Tommy Devito and the late Nick Massi, more than made up for with Valli’s extraordinary falsetto stylings and the sheer strength of the songs.

“What I wrote, (joined) with Frankie’s voice, exuded passion,” Gaudio says.

The Four Seasons’ material was also eclectic, Gaudio adds, juxtaposing “Sherry” with the 1967 smash “Can’t Take My Eyes off You.” (The Crewe-Gaudio standard was actually a solo hit for Frankie Valli.) The latter “was an amalgamation of three different things, with the horn lick almost as important as the verse and chorus. But it was amazing that it saw the light of day, because it was too soft for pop radio and too hard for AC, and radio didn’t want to play it.”

Gaudio, whose first big hit with the Royal Teens and its 1958 novelty hit “Short Shorts”- which he wrote and sang lead on – helped adapt the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married” to musical theatre, but the acclaimed August 2001 London production was derailed by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now living in Nashville (“the only place a songwriter can get a better table than an artist”), he says a book on the Four Seasons may follow if “Jersey Boys” is successful; so might a “reunion” album.

Rhino will release the original cast album for “Jersey Boys” Nov. 1.

Originally Published September 17, 2005.