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The Original Jersey Boy
by Anthony Chase
Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons talks about watching his life turned into a musical
“Surreal!” is the word Bob Gaudio uses to describe the experience of seeing himself depicted in Jersey Boys, the biographical musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons that has returned to Shea’s this week for a 10-day stay. “Of course, I’ve seen dozens of different actors play ‘Bob’ in the show, and I always enjoy it when the actor is especially good looking!”
The pop music legend spoke to Artvoice by telephone about his remarkable career and the role Jersey Boys has played in his life.
The Four Seasons were arguably the most successful 1960s pop and rock group before the Beatles. Their astonishing litany of hit songs includes “Sherry,” 1962; “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” 1962; “Walk Like a Man,” 1963; “Candy Girl,” 1963; “Dawn (Go Away),” 1964; “Rag Doll,” 1964; “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye),” 1965; and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” 1975. Valli went on to solo stardom with hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (1967).
“When people see Jersey Boys for the first time,” says Gaudio, “they are often surprised that all those songs are ours. They know we sang ‘Sherry’ or ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ but then they hear another one and another one and they say, ‘They did that one too?’ They know the songs. They just don’t know we sang all of them.”
More than sing those tunes, Gaudio wrote them.
It is generally agreed that when composer Gaudio joined the group, his talent provided the spark of inspiration that launched the Four Seasons into pop music immortality. He had already enjoyed a taste of success with his 1958 hit, “Short Shorts,” which he recorded with the Royal Teens. When that song hit the pop charts, he left high school during his junior year. Then, when he heard Frankie Valli sing at a club in Newark, he could see his future opening up before him. Valli was enjoying local popularity but not the crossover success he craved. Together, they made history with the Four Seasons.
The colossal success of Jersey Boys, which opened on Broadway in 2005, won four Tony Awards including Best Musical, and has been seen around the world, has renewed interest in the Four Seasons and has certainly increased admiration for them among a wide audience.
How has it changed Bob Gaudio’s life?
“Well it’s certainly made me love the theater,” he jests. “My previous experience with the theater was a musical version of the [Francis Ford Coppola] film, Peggy Sue Got Married.”
The 1986 film featured Kathleen Turner as a woman on the verge of a divorce who is transported back to her senior year in high school. The 2001 musical opened in London to positive reviews, but closed when tourism crashed after 9/11. The show never came to Broadway.
The success of Jersey Boys has renewed interest in Peggy Sue Got Married, confides Gaudio. A future production might well happen.
“What I’ve enjoyed most about the theater,” says Gaudio, “is the super-talented people who populate that world. When we first talked about doing a musical about the Four Seasons, everybody I know asked me, ‘How can you possibly cast somebody to play Frankie Valli?’ Well, in the world of Broadway, the talent pool is so great that, between the tours and the international productions, we’ve found 28 actors to play Frankie. And you know what, they can all sing; they can all act; they can all dance, and they’re all good-looking! And the swings—those are the guys who have to be ready to go on for any of the roles at a moment’s notice in case somebody is sick—they’re really amazing! That’s Broadway.”
The original Four Seasons—the real-life singers—remain close, says Gaudio. In particular, he and Frankie Valli talk frequently.
What about Tommy DiVito? With his gambling addiction and tax evasion, the show does not portray him in a very flattering light.
“Tommy?” says Gaudio. “I’m sure he has his own opinion about events and the way they’re portrayed, but he has an excellent sense of humor, and while I don’t talk to him as often as I talk to Frankie, we’re certainly in touch. We see each other, and he loves the show.”
Jersey Boys has also given Gaudio a whole new Broadway family.
“The show has been going so long that we now have Jersey Boys alumni,” he says. “And now, with John Lloyd Young back in the show, there is renewed enthusiasm for people who didn’t get to see him do it the first time.”
John Lloyd Young originated the role of Frankie Valli, winning a Tony Award for his performance. He went back into the Broadway production in January, reigniting an already healthy box office.
“I work with all the casts,” says Gaudio. “They are very talented, but they can’t see or really hear themselves, and we need to help them understand what they’ll sound like. The show has also got a great rock vocal coach. The way Frankie sings is unorthodox and not way people are taught to sing.
“The same thing goes for me, I guess. You asked me what it’s like to see actors playing me. I’m not the best judge. I always ask Frankie. He knows what I sound like. Frankie is a better judge. I always ask him. I tend to stay back before giving my two cents…okay, three cents.”
Jersey Boys will be at Shea’s through May 18. The show depicts decidedly adult situations and authentically “profane Jersey language,” so be advised that you might want to leave the kids at home. They’ve actually set up a web site with more information about that; visit www.JerseyBoysTour.com/language. Grownups, however, can snag tickets by calling Shea’s Box Office at 847-0850. This time, Jersey Boys is not part of the Shea’s subscription, so seats are still available for all performances!
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