From Broadway to the Big Screen: Jersey Boys Stars Return to Roles in Film Adaptation
By Robert Simonson
Stage performers and observers of theatre history know the usual heartbreaking story by heart: an actor makes a hit creating a character in a play or musical; the show becomes that rare piece of theatre that is made into a film; then the movie director hires no one in the original cast, but fills the parts with movie stars with no familiarity with the play. See: Mame; Hello, Dolly!; Chicago; Doubt; Proof; Guys and Dolls; Gypsy; and just about any other Broadway show you can think of.
Clint Eastwood’s film version of the long-running Broadway hit Jersey Boys, about the tumultuous formation of the Four Seasons pop group, is the exception.
Not only was John Lloyd Young given a chance to recreate his Tony-winning performance as lead singer Frankie Valli, two other actors from the first national tour of the musical — Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda — were tapped to recreate their work as keyboardist-songwriter Bob Gaudio and vocal arranger-bassist Nick Massi, respectively. Only one of the Four Seasons, the troublemaker Tommy DeVito, is portrayed by a newcomer to the material, “Boardwalk Empire”’s Vincent Piazza.
“I felt, after so many performances in the role, that I would have something to contribute, so I hoped I would get a shot at the role,” said Young, who first played Valli a decade ago. "And I’m so happy I got to. The icing on the cake is the director that chose me.”
“It was sort of unprecedented that so many of the alumni of the Jersey Boys Broadway production would be involved in this,” commented Lomenda. “It was an absolute surprise when Mr. Eastwood showed up at a San Francisco matinee I was doing. I didn’t know he was casting the movie. I thought in the back of my head he was brushing up before he started shooting and had already cast the movie with Justin Bieber, or someone.”
Bergen noted that he, Lomenda and Young weren’t the only lucky ones.
To Lomenda, the decision was indicative of Eastwood’s solid instincts as a director. “I think it speaks to his character that he trusts that the Broadway company could bring a lot to the table.”
Piazza admitted to being a bit nervous entering a cast that was already so well-versed in the script.
“It was a lot of pressure that I put on myself… I knew I had to get to a place in the work where I could fit in on camera. It was a great challenge.”
However, his three castmates did not consider their newbie Four Season a drag on proceedings. Rather, he provided a welcome jolt to the system.
“We got to use pretty much the same script from the stage show,” said Bergen. “We got to see it pretty much through new eyes, Clint’s eyes. What was also fun for us was bringing in someone like Vincent Piazza, who didn’t know the stage production and had never seen it. It brought in a new energy…. It really put us on our toes.”
Bergen allowed that, when he first heard Eastwood was directing the film, he didn’t quite see the director as a natural fit.
“At first, I didn’t get it,” said Bergen. “I thought of Clint as a guy who directed, first of all, westerns. And I thought of him as this dark [director] — I thought of 'Million Dollar Baby.' Then I went back and [remembered what] Jersey Boys is. It’s not the typical Broadway musical. You end up having a typical Broadway musical experience. But it’s a play that happens to have great music.”
Lomenda, meanwhile, pointed out that both Eastwood and the members of the Four Seasons come from the same generation — all five men became famous and successful during the 1960s — and thus know the period depicted in the film very well.
“Meeting Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli, and then meeting Clint Eastwood, you realize these men are cut from the same cloth,” he said. “These are legendary folks who have been through a lot.”
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