The success of the musical revue Smokey Joe's Café, which ran on Broadway between 1995 and 2000, and the book musical Mamma Mia!, which opened on Broadway in 2001 and was still running in the fall of 2005, led to a string of so-called jukebox musicals in which pop music catalogs of various performers were recycled in a theatrical context. Many of these shows failed, but others, notably Movin' Out, which featured Billy Joel's music choreographed by Twyla Tharp, succeeded. Jersey Boys, a stage biography of the Four Seasons, looked like one of those few hits after it opened on November 6, 2005. The New Jersey-based vocal group bested only by the Beatles, the Supremes, and the Rolling Stones on the pop singles charts of the 1960s (as noted by annotator Charles Alexander) turned out to have a compelling career story containing not a little of the crime and mobster connections the Garden State was famous for, and critics who had disparaged musicals based on the songs of the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley looked more fondly on it, as did audiences. Usually, an original Broadway cast album is recorded on a day-off a week or two after a successful opening, but this one actually preceded the show itself, turning up in record stores five days before the official start of Jersey Boys' run. Also, more time was spent on it than the usual one-day session that Broadway union rules generally require. Producer Bob Gaudio, who was also an original member of the Four Seasons and the songwriter of many of their hits, seems to have been determined to get the sound right. Of course, the other original members of the group were not involved; instead, a talented young cast re-creates the familiar recordings. There, of course, is the problem. If critics in the theater often squirm at the ways librettists shoehorn well-known songs into the story lines of the jukebox musicals, record critics can have even less patience with the souvenir albums. The reason is easy to see. It's one thing to suspend disbelief in a theater as a group of actor/singers make like the Four Seasons. But a recording is immediately in competition with the still-available original recordings, and that's a battle that simply can't be won. Unquestionably, John Lloyd Young, playing lead singer Frankie Valli, has a good voice (if not quite the preternatural range Valli displayed in his prime), the rest of the singers are good, and Gaudio has achieved reasonable approximations of the original recordings. But who needs it? The album is not simply a Four Seasons tribute record, however. Snatches of Marshall Brickman's and Rick Elice's dialogue are included here and there to give some sense of the plot, but they usually sound overacted and clichéd. ("You wanna get a hit song, it's like the Stations of the Cross. You gotta get past the record company, the program directors, the DJs, and if you're lucky, you get to the people.") The album has been released by Rhino Records, a reissue label not generally known for its interest in Broadway. Why? Connections. As Alexander makes a point of saying in the liner notes, "You can buy the original recordings on the Rhino label."
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