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Jersey Boy

Bob Gaudio, hit songwriter and former member of The Four Seasons, has another winner on his hands with a new Broadway musical
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

Bob Gaudio sits in an aisle seat at the August Wilson Theatre in Manhattan on a warm spring morning. The stage is bare and the auditorium is empty, except for a reporter and two cleaning people. The whir of a vacuum cleaner can be heard in the near-empty hall. In a few hours, a capacity crowd, full of anticipation, will enter that West 52nd Street theater. They will revel in a show that tells the moving story, in words and music, of the birth, rise, fall and rebirth of the classic 1960s pop group Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The show is Jersey Boys.

"It's like reliving my life," Gaudio says. "But this time, there's a 20-minute intermission."

The tall, slender and bearded 63-year-old songwriter eagerly talks about The Four Seasons and Jersey Boys, the biggest musical hit of the Broadway season and one that he helped conceive. Gaudio, a founding member of the doo-wop quartet, was the one who wrote its danceable, singable, harmonic music. A songwriter since his youth, Gaudio wrote his first—pre-Four Seasons—No. 1 hit, "Short Shorts," when he was only 15. He wasn't quite 20 when he began writing the now legendary Four Seasons standards "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Rag Doll," moving on over the years to "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)."

More than four decades after the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers first reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts—with "Sherry" in 1962—the show about their lives and music is a hit with New York theater critics and has received eight Tony Award nominations.

But not just critics are enthralled. Eight times a week, rapturous audiences embrace Jersey Boys. They cheer the songs and the performances, clap in unison and silently (sometimes not so silently) sing along. Those anthems of a generation bring back teen memories and touchingly and joyously recapture a time long gone, for two and a half all-too-brief hours. As one critic wrote, "Jersey Boys catches the very texture, almost the actual smell, of its time."

Or as Gaudio justifiably brags, "The audience doesn't just walk out saying, 'Oh, yeah, that was fun, that was cool, that was a nice show, that was worth the 110 bucks.' They fly out. They're on a cloud."

Jersey Boys began its life in October 2004 at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, where it was the most successful show in the theater's history. It cost nearly $8 million to bring to Broadway, where it opened last November. Although Gaudio and others wouldn't give out the names of the investors, they believe that the show will recoup its investment this summer. That's much faster than it takes many hit Broadway musicals to show a profit.

In December, the rest of the country will get to see why New York has fallen in love with the show—that's when the Jersey Boys national tour begins, at the Curran Theater in San Francisco.

The idea for a show like Jersey Boys came to him nearly 30 years ago, Gaudio says. The first time he realized it might work, he recalls, "was when I was watching the [bar] scene in The Deer Hunter, when Robert De Niro and the others sang 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You.' It struck me that this is the real world out there, and people have been affected by the song like that. If the director, Michael Cimino, can use it in such an effective way, there's something there."

He stored the seed in the back of his mind, where it stayed without germinating. He wasn't involved in the theater then, and wasn't sure how he could nurture his plan. But, in 2001, the stage beckoned. He composed the score for a London musical based on the 1986 movie Peggy Sue Got Married.

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