Jersey Boys, the international hit musical telling the remarkable true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, arrives at the Lyceum Theatre next Tuesday for a two-week run.
They were four New Jersey kids from the wrong side of the tracks who invented their own unique sound, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and became one of the most successful bands in pop history.
And yet even those who were around when The Four Seasons broke on to the music scene in 1962 with Sherry, swiftly followed by other hits Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Rag Doll, never knew much about the doo-wop group led by Valli with his startingly original falsetto compared with contemporaries like The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
Growing up on the streets of Newark, New Jersey, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi had frequent run-ins with the law (two of them spent time in jail), as well as close links with the Mafia.
That meant while some bands devoted much time to projecting a rough-edged street-wise image, The Four Seasons needed a clean-cut makeover while as little was said as possible about their background.
But of course it was perfect material when the idea of a biographical musical was mooted in the Noughties, especially when subsequent struggles with women, family, gambling and one another could be added to the mix.
Then, of course, there is the music composed by keyboard player Bob Gaudio, (mostly with lyrics by Bob Crewe) and the show reveals the sheer volume of their hit songs.
We may remember Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got) and December, 1963 (Oh What A Night), but may be surprised to hear they also sang Dawn, Ronnie, Stay, Working My Way Back to You, Beggin’, and many others not to mention some we associate with other people such as Bye Bye Baby (the Bay City Rollers) and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (Andy Williams).
But with jukebox musicals seemingly ten a penny, these ingredients on their own cannot account for the success of Jersey Boys, already seen by 20 million people worldwide having garnered 55 major awards.
Crucially the fascinating story which interweaves with all those songs has been fashioned by writers of some pedigree. The book is by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, who wrote the screenplays for Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan
They sat down in turn with Valli, Gaudio and DeVito (Massi died of cancer in 2000) and discovered they all had differing memories of their experience. The writers ended up following the method of Rashomon, the classic 1950 Japanese film which offers different verions of the same crime from each character. And so the story of the Four Seasons is told from three angles.
“It’s a classic American story,” Brickman has said. “It’s rags to riches... and back to rags.”