All musicals build tension and excitement through dramatic song cycles of conflict and resolution, hope and elation.
“Jersey Boys,” based on musical life and times of The Four Seasons, is no exception.
But it’s arguably exceptional in the way it matches form and content for a front-row seat to the rise and fall one of America’s best-known pop acts.
The musical, which opened in 2005 on Broadway and clenched four Tony Awards — including Best Musical — the following year, makes its Utah premiere June 4-16 at Capitol Theatre.
“Jersey Boys” book writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman said they had no temptation to reconstitute the songs of their famous, pop-music subjects. The signature falsetto voice of Frankie Valli, throughout the 1960s and onward, spoke for itself. Instead, it was the little-known story behind the group’s fame that proved unwieldy at first.
“We started to function more as journalists than dramatists when we first started work,” said Elice, speaking from his office in New York City. “Then when we finished interviewing the band members we put our dramatists’ hats back on. It occurred to us that nature’s seasons followed the arc of the band’s story.”
Even more clever was employing the device of a “narrative baton” creating the musical’s bracing, almost documentary-type feel.
Spring, narrated by band member Tommy DeVito, follows the band’s early years as he, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli teach each other to sing, and fall under the wing of mob boss Gyp DeCarlo. Summer, told by Gaudio, follows them on the trail to stardom. Fall, told by Massi, digs deep into the band’s plagues of jealousy and crushing debt. Finally, Valli ushers in winter as his family and personal relations break down, and the bonds that held the band together unravel.
These revolving, competing accounts let the audience weigh each character and account against another, making “Jersey Boys” almost interactive in style. And, of course, the audience is also part of the clubs, saloons and recording studios where The Four Seasons perform.
“The audience gets to play along in both senses,” Elice said. “People pick their favorite, a lot like Beatles’ fans when they wore buttons proclaiming affection for Paul [McCartney] or George [Harrison].”
Few people are happier about the musical’s success than Gaudio, who said no one could predict its reception when it first premiered in 2004 at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse.
“We always thought of the West Coast as ‘Beach Boys’ territory,” Gaudio said, speaking by phone from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “But Frankie [Valli] and I both looked at each other at intermission and said, ‘My God, what if this gets to New York?’ I don’t think either of us thought about picking the musical apart if we could. When something has that kind of impact, you don’t question it.”
Brickman, who co-wrote the musical’s book with Elice, said initial concerns followed “Jersey Boys” to its Broadway debut as well.
“A lot of people went to see it with chips on their shoulders. Nobody had heard of Frankie Valli for years,” Brickman said from his New York City home. “But a lot of upper East Side elite, who would only give a nod to a British invasion group or a Cole Porter musical, came away quite charmed. Then the ‘bridge-and-tunnel’ crowd from New Jersey really embraced it.”
The Four Seasons at their heyday were considered clean-cut, all-American Italian boys who made good. Part of what the musical reveals, though, is the simmering tension behind their success, as well as the rougher side of success during a time when ethnic lines across America’s neighborhoods were more closely watched and guarded.
As DeVito, Massi, Gaudio and Valli sing, celebrate, bicker and at last disintegrate into their raging dawn of fallen glory what becomes clear is not just the price of pop-music success, but the possible lesson that every legacy carries the seeds of its own painful demise.
“I haven’t been able to extract any lesson from it all, really,” Brickman said. “But one sense the audience does come away with is the knowledge that every family is a complicated entity. If you don’t watch it, you can explode it all away.”
When • June 4-16. Week one, June 4-9; Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m., Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Week two, June 11-16; Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $40-$125. Call 801-355-ARTS or visit www.arttix.org for more information. Visit www.jerseyboysinfo.com for more show information.