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Just too good to be true: Jersey Boys tells the story behind the Four Seasons’ classic, wholesome sound

February 28, 2024

The Broadway blockbuster doesn’t pull any punches as it authentically recreates the world of one of pop’s most harmonious groups.

They had a look, an attitude, and a sound like no other. Sure, they were born in Jersey – but they were made in America.  

Jersey Boys is the international musical phenomenon that takes you behind the scenes – and behind the music – of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The Broadway blockbuster kicks off Drayton Entertainment’s 2024 Season at Hamilton Family Theatre Cambridge from March 27 to April 21, before transferring to Huron Country Playhouse from July 10 to August 3, and then arriving at King’s Wharf Theatre from August 8 to September 1.

Like many successful recording artists, The Four Seasons found inspiration in challenges that they'd faced in their own lives; in their case, while growing up in the down-to-earth, working class community of Belleville, New Jersey. 

Even with an abundance of natural talent, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Frankie Valli (the stage name of Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) nevertheless had to struggle to make their mark on the charts in the early 1960s. And getting the world to listen to Valli’s angelic voice sometimes meant shaking hands with the devil.

The hit musical Jersey Boys – which includes dozens of classic hits such as “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” – unflinchingly shows how one of popular music’s most iconic groups owed its success to the tough neighbourhood its members grew up in. The harmonies on stage and in the recording studio came out of the discord of their formative years.

Decades after their initial success, and inspired by late-90s shows like Mamma Mia!, which featured ABBA’s hits, Gaudio decided to create a jukebox musical based on The Four Seasons’ playlist. Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman were hired to write the script, and it was the latter who suggested telling the band’s classic American rags-to-riches story, rather than producing a work of fiction. Gaudio approved, and he came up with the show’s title.

Brickman and Elise’s research in 2000 included speaking with Gaudio, DeVito and Valli, who enthusiastically supported the project. Massi was also looking forward to contributing, but he died from cancer in December before he could be interviewed.

If you’re from my neighborhood, you’ve got three ways out: You could join the army. You could get mobbed up. Or you could become a star.

Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys

Virtually nothing was known about The Four Seasons’ background, which received little attention during their rise to fame or at the height of their popularity, so it came as a shock to the writers when they discovered some of the darker details behind the group’s iconic, wholesome sound. It was a more innocent time, and sales of their music records would have nosedived if the public learned about their criminal records.

As one of the few U.S. bands that were able to withstand the British invasion of groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – the Four Seasons have sold 175 million records globally – their clean-cut image hid numerous infidelities and underworld connections.

“The neighborhood was tough, but you never had to lock the door,” said DeVito in a New York Times interview, referring to the community’s code of self-rule. (“Straight Out of Newark”, by Mark Rotella; October 2, 2005.)

During the show’s early development, the three surviving band members deliberately removed themselves from the creative process because they felt that they lacked objectivity. The result is a refreshingly authentic telling of their origin, rather than the typical, whitewashed musical biography. Jersey Boys honestly portrays the realities of their early years, where deals were sealed with a handshake, often after robust negotiations that used the coarse language of the streets.

Each band member narrates their own side of The Four Seasons’ story, which is divided, fittingly, into spring, summer, fall and winter segments. Scenes overlap with conflicting memories, further adding to the show’s credibility. Colourful characters who later became well-known in their own right pop up to play active roles in the band’s progress, such as “Little Joey Fishes”.

No matter what Tommy says about plucking me from obscurity, the real story is I had “Short Shorts” at Number Two when I was 15. OK sure, by 17, I’m just another one-hit wonder worrying that the best is already behind me - but I did not spring to life fully formed the day Joe Pesci showed up at my door.

Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys premiered in October 2004 at the University of California’s La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego before transferring to the August Wilson Theatre a year later, where it eventually became the 12th-longest-running show on Broadway. Its 4093rd performance was on September 22, 2015. Following rave reviews, the production was honoured with four Tony® Awards, including Best Musical.

Between 2004 and 2006, Valli had a recurring role as fictional mobster Rusty Millio in HBO’s “The Sopranos”, and in 2007, the Chicago cast of Jersey Boys performed at the Emmy Awards in a tribute to the T.V. show.

We were doing good – concerts, club dates, cover of Cashbox. Six more weeks at Number One – that covered a lot of sins.

Nick Massi in Jersey Boys

Touring productions have appeared on stages in dozens of American cities, and the show has also enjoyed success in other countries, too.

It made its West End debut – with the Broadway creative team – at the Prince Edward Theatre in February 2008. Jersey Boys picked up the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical in 2009, and its final performance was this January. British actor Ryan Molloy played The Four Seasons’ lead singer for over six years before leaving the London show in 2014, which makes him the longest-running “Frankie Valli”.

The first Canadian production, in Toronto, also opened in 2008. Clint Eastwood directed a big screen adaptation in 2014.

Over 30 million people have seen Jersey Boys on stage and experienced The Four Seasons’ rise from a streetwise quartet to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. 62 years after the band’s first chart-topper, “Sherry”, their unique sound still strikes a chord.

They ask you, what was the high point? The Hall of Fame? Selling all those records? Pulling “Sherry” out of the hat? It was all great. But four guys under a streetlamp, when it was all still ahead of us...the first time we made that sound – our sound – when everything dropped away and all there was, was the music – that was the best.

Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys

Learn more about Jersey Boys:

Huron Country Playhouse

Jersey Boys

July 10 to August 3, 2024

King's Wharf Theatre

Jersey Boys

August 8 to September 1, 2024