Ask any member of New York’s theatre fraternity, and they will readily tell how difficult it is for a stage show to be adapted for the big screen. Seemingly primed better than most for a Hollywood outing was a hit musical centring on The Four Seasons, a runaway triumph with all the hallmarks of brilliant movie. This is not that movie.
Jersey Boys tells the tale of a real-life pop group hailing from New Jersey – hence the title. Said group begins in the Fifties as a singing trio, made up of founder Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), bass singer Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and falsetto singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young), with mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) helping them secure gigs. Unsurprisingly, their association with the mafia does them few favours, eventually seeing them fall foul of the law.
It isn’t until the trio are put into contact with singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergin) and flamboyant producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) that Tommy, Nick and Frankie are able to find success in the music industry, changing their name to The Four Seasons and topping the charts with the infectious single “Sherry”. Several more hits follow, but with debts mounting and their private lives in turmoil, future success is looking tenuous and the foursome is in danger is disbanding.
The stage version of Jersey Boys premiered in the mid-Noughties, immediately drawing praise from both reviewers and theatregoers for its energetic renditions of old songs, interesting plot and bountiful bursts of humour. Talk of a film adaptation began not long after, with the rights eventually reaped by Clint Eastwood. Although he seems an odd choice to handle this sort of material, ol’ Clint is no stranger to musicals, having appeared in Paint Your Wagon during his younger years and written songs for his own films.
When one medium makes the transition to another, it is inevitable that changes will be made. In the instance of stage-to-film adaptations, the drama is less exaggerated and the run-time condensed. Eastwood looks to have eschewed this formula, since his film remains welcomely true to the Broadway show – here and there, melodies will provide exposition, while characters break the fourth wall to provide monologues. It even shares the same dialogue, same jokes and some members of the original Broadway cast.
Theoretically, this should make the film a romp; yet despite emulating much of the ever-popular stage show, Eastwood’s Jersey Boys doesn’t capture that same magic. Slow, downbeat and dimly-coloured, those who haven’t seen the source material could be forgiven for thinking that the picture is Jersey Boys in name only, lacking the energy and pizzazz that people expect of a musical, even by the relatively subdued standards of Hollywood.
Although it pales in comparison to the stage version, Eastwood’s Jersey Boys can still be appreciated, especially by those unfortunate enough to have missed viewing the former. Each song retains the catchiness that made it so popular all those decades ago, which will come as a delight to music fans; those who prefer drama to ditties will be drawn to the story, with revelations that aren’t widely known about The Four Seasons. Pay close attention, and one may even emit the odd laugh.
It’s difficult to tell what Clint Eastwood wanted to do with Jersey Boys – he seemingly wants to evoke the spirit of the Broadway show, but without the unadulterated frivolity that made it so memorable. Even so, there is some relief in knowing that his film contains many of the original production’s charms, ensuring that boredom is never a constant.