Thursday, March 21, 2013 | 5:43 p.m.
It’s been five years with nearly 2,000 performances since the amazing and smash-hit “Jersey Boys,” the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, has been entertaining Las Vegas audiences. First at the Palazzo and now at the Paris, “Jersey Boys” tells the story of a group of blue-collar New Jersey boys who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, yet became worldwide pop sensations.
Today, Frankie and the group’s songwriter, Bob Gaudio, attended a lunchtime ceremony outside Paris, where the group was recognized with a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars outside the casino property. The show’s cast joined Paris Regional President David Hoenemeyer.
Bob is the man who wrote The Four Seasons’ hits, co-founded the group and sang onstage as part of The Four Seasons, but then walked away in the mid-1970s after a staggering and sensational 12-year-run at the top. Bob wanted to go solo and write and produce other superstars, and he did with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
He’s been a friend of mine since Tin Pan Alley days on Broadway in the early 1970s when I published my Go Magazine for Top 40 radio stations coast to coast. I last interviewed him for Vegas Deluxe and the Las Vegas Sun on May 4, 2009. I chatted with him again before he flew out here for today’s events, and he revealed for the first time that plans are progressing for a film version next year.
He told me: “It’s too difficult for us to analyze why and how we have lasted so long. Nothing was premeditated with that in mind. We just did what we were comfortable doing. Everybody wants recognition, but for it to get to the point where it may never end. … All we can say is that we are very fortunate. Our songs have been in many films over the years, so that’s carried us through. Frankie is still out touring, and new versions of our old songs released -- Lauryn Hill, “Dirty Dancing” -- have kept us there to reach generation after generation.
I asked Bob if he believed the long-running success of their hits was because they were down to earth and bout young love. He told me: “The songs are clean and wholesome, but the story isn’t. It is quite a dichotomy, but essentially they are pretty simplistic as far as pop music is concerned. I think there is always something memorable, whether it is Frankie singing a certain falsetto line, or a lyric, but why we have lasted so long or lasted so long between hits, going from “Sherry” to “Grease,” or Frankie later on. It has just been an amazing run. To be honest, though, I still don’t exactly know what the answer to your question is.”
Frankie Valli and The Four Season star at Paris/Richard Corey
When I first saw “Jersey Boys” at Palazzo and then again at Paris, I marveled at how remarkably alike they are to the group I’d known in the 1960s and ’70s. Bob commented: “The Las Vegas cast really got it, they really got us, absolutely. What is so terrific about what goes on with the show in Vegas is they have a good basic reality of what we were about, but their individual talents put that little extra something that you could believe it is a band just starting, and they are searching and scuffling and fighting to get to the top. They have their little individual artistic approaches to the characters. I am pretty amazed at the little twists and bends that each individual actor puts on the part, and it is a pretty amazing result -- pretty exciting.”
“Jersey Boys” has seven companies worldwide, with Broadway being the longest running at seven years. “We’d actually played the Sands as a group where the Palazzo now is,” Bob continued. “So, we had a lot of familiarity with Vegas, and the story is pretty much fist, hand and gloves. I guess we were pretty even odds wise about the show doing well in Vegas. Five years, though? No, that is like the first question you asked me -- why are we still around?
“The thing about our show that was pretty much, I don’t want to say from Day 1, but close to it, when we started in La Jolla, Calif., was a very heavy, for this business anyway, return rate for our audience. There are very few people that I have run into who haven’t seen the show more than two or three times. There is just something about it. There is something compelling, there is something that makes them want to come back and see it again or bring someone with them, so that is I think a big part of the success, the return to the show. It has just been really quite astounding.
“I get impressed when people return time and again and yet say they’re seeing it for the first time. There is, not to mention names here because we are in the middle of putting a film together, which we hope will be out in 2014, but a very well-known director came out to see the show, and I met with him the next day, and he, unbeknownst to me, had already seen it seven times.
“But in advance of our meetings, he wanted to see it yet again to express how artistically to approach the film from his point-of-view. He said, though, that two minutes into it, he had totally forgotten why he was there; he was just absorbed in the show. I think that’s what happens, I think that people start rooting for the guys onstage. They feel that they are witnessing the birth of a new group; it pulls you right in.”
“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime-type situation for almost everybody that has been involved with the show. It’s as if fairy dust was sprinkled over the show. There hasn’t been a weak link from the first time we started working. When I saw previews in La Jolla, everyone was just on top of their game. It was just an amazing gang of creative people. It is what makes things so successful, when everybody comes together, and it just turns into a raging bonfire. We were lucky enough to have all those ingredients put in there.”
Instead of churning out hit after hit, Bob is now working on two new Broadway projects, one an original and the other the London musical version of “Peggy Sue Got Married.” He referenced “the greenhouse” of La Jolla Playhouse for “Jersey Boys,” so I told him about our magnificent new The Smith Center for the Performing Arts here that opened since his last visit. He hopes to visit it when I told him of my interview with Smith Center chief Myron Martin posted Feb. 4 about his hopes one day to create a play or musical here that could wind up on Broadway.
“I don’t see why not. There is certainly enough talent out there to pull together and put together a show that could be put in workshop atmosphere and develop,” said Bob. “Put the right people in place, the right people will attract great actors and musicians. If you have local actors who can come together, and you have a great artistic director, I think that is the right answer. The right artistic director can pull in the right people. I think that everybody wants to be with extremely talented people because it only makes you better, so I think that would be the key.”
TRAVIS CLOER AS FRANKIE VALLI
I also interviewed Travis Cloer, who plays Frankie Valli in the Paris show. He explained its timeless magic: “It all comes down to this music. It’s some of the best American pop music ever written, and it strikes a chord with people. People just want to keep listening to it over and over, and then you add this compelling story that not many people know about, and you’ve just got something that just turned into this monster hit.
“Bob believes in his music immensely, whether or not he knew it would last this long in Las Vegas I am not sure, but he is a music man through and through. He believes in the songs he had written, and he just is so musically driven that I don’t think it could have done anything less than what it’s doing now.
“Over the five years, we’ve even gotten better with it. We are very lucky because we have had a lot of the same actors. We have developed this chemistry and this relationship with each other, both onstage and offstage, that really mirrors the characters that we play since they have been together for so long.
“Even in this hip-hop age, we’re getting a whole new range of fans. There are, of course, the people who grew up with the music, but now they bring their kids, their grandkids -- a completely different generation. These guys are singing every word with us. They have grabbed hold of this music and run with it.
“They just don’t write songs like this anymore. These are songs that not only have great melodies, they have great harmonies, and they have interesting things rhythmically. The lyrics, they are talking about things that just touch people, and they are talking about them in ways that people can relate to -- which is the central point to our show. These were what the every man was thinking on the street.
“I hope that it runs another five years, even though to take care of my voice, I sometimes live like a priest. You can’t go out and do a whole lot of things that maybe people in other shows are able to do because you do have to take care of your voice because you are singing so many songs and in such a difficult range. Especially here in Vegas, you just really have to take care hydrate, sleep, exercise, warm up, sing properly, take vocal lessons, and just care for your instrument instead of your craft. That is part of the reason why we’ve got two guys playing the Frankie Valli role here, just because it is so difficult and the climate is so unforgiving.
“I see another good five years in this show. The audience hasn’t slowed down at all since we’ve moved over to the Paris. I think that if this music can last for the 50-some years that it has already, I don’t see a problem with another five years. It’s got a great message of love and struggle and overcoming.
“It has taught me that even through the hard times, the times where you feel like things aren’t going well and you just feel like giving up, to keep going. It has reinforced that belief in me … to really dig down deep and find out in my heart what was really valuable to me, and what I really wanted to do passionately and make a commitment to that, and do everything that I can to keep that going.
“ ‘Jersey Boys’ is first and foremost in my heart right now.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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