I've never been a big Broadway musical guy. I've seen my share, both on Broadway and off. “Rent,” which I liked. “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which I thought was OK. And, of course, I've seen so many movie adaptations, from “”42nd Street” to “West Sdie Story” to “Hairspray” and so on.
So I wasn't really looking forward to “Jersey Boys,” even if it was directed by Clint Eastwood. But I was pleasantly surprised, which I reveal in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio. A transcription of the review follows:
Judging Broadway musicals takes an adroit critical hand. It’s not as if you can hold, say, “Phantom of the Opera” to the same standards as “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Looking for a similar sense of quality within such contrasting theatrical productions is tricky.
Truth is, you have to adjust your perspective. And relativity is key. You have to compare “Phantom of the Opera” with, say, “Jersey Boys.” And in movie terms, at least, that means weighing the weepy feeling that strikes you when Gerard Butler sings “The Music of the Night” against whatever you feel when John Lloyd Young sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
Young, of course, is the actor who plays Frankie Valli in Clint Eastwood’s movie version of “Jersey Boys,” the show that won the 2006 Tony Award. Adapted by original authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, “Jersey Boys” is a period-piece study of the multi-hit ’60s-era singing group The Four Seasons. And if I sound muted in my appreciation for Young’s singing, it’s no reflection on his abilities. It’s just that I’m not confident that everyone today shares my affection for a group that was churning out hit songs when I was just approaching adolescence.
Again, I’m speaking here about relativity. I won’t argue that “Jersey Boys” is a great film. In a certain sense, it’s no different from any other hard-road-to-success picture that has been made about singers from Al Jolson to Billie Holiday, Ray Charles to Johnny Cash. We have the rough beginnings, kids in urban New Jersey caught between crime and their dream of making it as entertainers. Next comes the break: They find a sound and a competent producer and, fairly quickly, make it big. Then come the complications: Being blindsided by all the problems that come with too much, too soon – while life goes on and on. Finally, we arrive at the resolution, which is as glossed over as any shiny new LP in its pristine packaging.
But melodramatic shine is all part of what makes Broadway, and maybe the best thing that director Eastwood has achieved with his “Jersey Boys” is to have given us something that strikes a balance between that stagey glow and the greater sense of authenticity that the movie screen demands. Yes, Eastwood does have a good cast to work with: Young has the Valli-like pipes, if not quite the acting chops, to play our lead singer. Yet Vincent Piazza as tough-guy Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen as a winking Bob Gaudio and a Mike Doyle as producer Bob Crewe carry enough swagger for any movie.
And even as that cast walks through a movie world that, for the most part, is set clearly on a studio backlot, Eastwood misdirects us by keeping his movie moving, by having various cast members address the audience directly and by always using that memorable music to enhance our emotions.
Seeing “Jersey Boys” isn’t exactly like time-traveling back to 1960. But if I close my eyes, it’s as close as I can come.