The rise of original Four Seasons members, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, to fame does not follow the traditional rags-to-riches storyline with a simple, happy ending. However, through sheer grit and exceptional talent, these Jersey boys paved the way for future rock ‘n’ roll generations with their eclectic sound and octave jumping vocals. They would go on to craft lyrics and music that connected with the young, the old, the working class, and broke the through the racial divide of music at the time by focusing on real issues in people’s lives, primarily the ebb and flow of romantic relationships. Rather than perfectly mesh the groups voices and styles together like other harmonizing vocal bands of the time, for example Beach Boys and the Beatles, the band relied on its distinct set of voices and personalities to develop a sound all its own. The band fought for its spot on top charts, and faced frequent rejection before being played on everyone’s radio in the mid-1960s.
One of the obstacles to achieving fame, was the group’s inability to find the perfect stage name, in fact, it took the group 18 tries–used individually and collectively in all–before choosing ‘The Four Seasons.’ Other names include ‘The Four Lovers,’ ‘Frankie Valley and the Travelers,’ ‘The Village Voices,’ and ‘The Topics.’ The iconic band name was taken from a small town bowling alley, the 4 Seasons, in which the band auditioned for a lounge bar gig and was ironically turned down. In true Jersey boys spirit, they decided they would take something away from the ordeal and that became their iconic name. The Four Seasons enjoyed 13 top-ten hits between 1962 and 1967, despite having to compete with the British band invasion that swept across the country.
The musical shines light on all four narratives of the band members’ versions of their time together, as they remember it. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey the members came from working-class Italian-American families, in neighborhoods where trouble could easily be found if you weren’t careful. Interestingly enough, Hollywood actor Joe Pesci was the one to introduce Frankie Valli and Tommy Devito to Bob Gaudio, which reveals how close-knit the community really was. Several of The Four Seasons members held prison records for minor offenses, including leads Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, but were able to keep the sordid secret away from the media’s attention. After all, the band represented a clean-cut group of hard-working American boys and any contradiction to this image could have potentially destroyed their careers.
Down the road, the band learned that DeVito had been amassing quite a large debt with a loan shark, but luckily ties with known mob boss Angelo Carlo helped the band squeeze out of the situation unscathed. However, part of the deal was that Valli and Gaudio would buy Tommy Devito out of the band and assume all remaining debts, if he agreed to leave the group. In 1965, Nick Massi also decided to call it quits, however The Four Seasons carried on with various members and Valli trying his hand at a solo career.
It was the Gaudio and Valli’s dream to have The Four Seasons story told in either film or another format for the masses, so when Broadway producers approached them about the opportunity to have their trials and tribulations be turned into a Broadway musical, the performers leapt at the chance. What made the making of Jersey Boys especially unique was the fact that the producers were able to pull aside each Four Seasons member and create a storyline from intimate talks with all four leads that revealed each musicians experience in the band, often with conflicting narratives. The musical opened on November 6, 2005 at the August Wilson Theatre and would go on to win both a Tony and Grammy Award in the category of Best Musical, not to mention garner a record-breaking 11-year run on Broadway. Jersey Boys has been seen by over 24 million people in 10 countries, including Australia, South Korea and South Africa. The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be one of two regional theatres to have the privilege to produce the show to its audience. Through infectious, nostalgic music Jersey Boys reminds us that there are several sides to any story, and that fame has its fair share of costs.