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October 23, 2017

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Former Las Vegas headliner Erich Bergen stars in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Jersey Boys’


Isaac Brekken

Jeff Leibow, Rick Faugno, Erich Bergen and Deven May in Jersey Boys at the Palazzo.

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Jersey Boys

The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys” is one of incredible success and then a breakup in a classic rags-to-riches and back-to-rags tale.

Tonight, we get our first advance look at Oscar-winning Hollywood actor and director Clint Eastwood’s movie interpretation of their saga that will be in theaters across the country this Friday. Although the jukebox-musical movie doesn’t star any of the current cast of “Jersey Boys” at the Paris, they will be on hand at the private premiere at AMC Theaters in Town Square.

However, one familiar Las Vegas face gets plenty of screen time: Erich Bergen, who plays the role of music maestro Bob Gaudio from the group, opened the show here at the Palazzo in May 2009 and also its first national tour. The musical has just celebrated its 3,500th performance on Broadway, making it the 13th-longest-running show on the Great White Way.

It will be interesting to see Clint’s take on the hit musical. The first review came from revered Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy, who said:

”A dash of showbiz pizzazz has been lost, but some welcome emotional depth has been gained in the big-screen version of the still-thriving theatrical smash ‘Jersey Boys.’ Approaching its 10th year on Broadway, the highly entertaining account of the checkered career of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is currently the 13th-longest-running show in Broadway history and continues to flourish on tour.

“The film’s basic fidelity to its source, along with the music’s continuing appeal, suggests solid prospects among mainstream audiences for this story of working-class street guys who made it big but never could entirely surmount their personal limitations. Creatively, the big question here is how the seemingly odd matchup of ‘Jersey Boys’ and director Clint Eastwood worked out.

“More crucial is the director’s feel for the struggle, the long road that must often be traversed to achieve show-business success, the price that must often be paid. Far more than in the stage show, which acknowledges the hardships but always cuts quickly back to fun stuff, there is stress on how being on the road away from mates and kids inevitably takes a heavy toll, and on the considerable cost of a determined commitment to success in the arts.

“Its highlighting enriches the material emotionally and dramatically, providing a bracing dose of melancholy before the final musical surge. Like The Four Seasons, Eastwood persevered through ups and downs during the 1950s and into the early 1960s; that he’s simpatico with their personal and professional travails is evident and adds heft to the film.

“ ‘Jersey Boys’ is a jukebox musical with a good book as well as a raft of songs that remain as infectious as they were five decades back with different points-of-view on events by shifting the narrative voice from one band member to another. Eastwood has smoothly incorporated the direct-address technique to the film, something mainstream audiences might now accept more easily than before in the wake of ‘House of Cards.’

“The hits just keep on coming: ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ were all No. 1 hits in 1962-63, and the roll continued with ‘Rag Doll,’ ‘Bye Bye Baby,’ ‘Let’s Hang On’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ among others.

“Rather than lip-synching to prerecorded tracks, the performers all sang during filming to live, behind-the-scenes musical accompaniment in the interest of maximum spontaneity and credibility. Both musically and dramatically, all four actors playing band members register distinctively.”

* * *

In addition to Erich, the cast includes John Lloyd Young, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle, Renee Marino, Erica Piccinini, Joseph Russo, Donnie Kehr, Kathrine Narducci and our Las Vegas regular pal Steven Schirripa.

When I arrived in New York back in the mid-1960s, The Four Seasons were major headline pop artists and regular visitors to the Brill Building on Broadway steps away from my own office for the pop-music magazine Go that I launched. I often met Frankie and producer Bob Crewe for stories.

I am still amazed at how their sound has lived on so strongly for five decades. A national British tour starts this fall, and the legend continues from its shaky start at La Jolla Playhouse in October 2004.

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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