To be honest, the fact that I picked “My Eyes Adored You” as the title song for this post is more because of a slight personal connection I have to the song than it is anything else. I could just have easily chosen songs such as “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night!)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and many others. While the Jersey Boys musical tells the story of 1960s supergroup, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it is mainly an excuse to create a play out of their musical catalogue of hits. In this way, Jersey Boys shares a lot in common with another Broadway hit, Momma Mia (which, as many of you know, showcased ABBA’s entire roster of hit songs in the guise of a romantic comedy storyline). But, thinking that the story of Jersey Boys is just like Momma Mia would be wrong. In fact, the two stories couldn’t be more different. The mere fact that actor Joe Pesci plays an integral part…in real life as well as on screen…tells you all that you may need to know that something is up with Jersey Boys. So, without further delay, here is the story of one of Broadway’s most popular and enduring hits, Jersey Boys.
With the emergence of the Fab Four over in England, American record executives were searching high and low for their own version of singing quartets. As luck would have it, four guys from New Jersey were meeting up and realizing that they shared a common love of singing and of four-part harmonies. These four young men were named Tommy Devito, Frank Valli, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi. While these four young men could sing and ended up having a string of #1 hit songs, their fame only went so far; especially when compared to groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. The reason for that was because many of those involved in the group had well known ties to organized crime. In fact, Tommy Devito had already spent time in prison prior to becoming a singer in The Four Seasons (which is what the band was originally known as). Not only that but, Devito ended up racking up huge gambling debts as the 1960s unfolded. The debts got so high that eventually, the remaining members of the band had to approach a New Jersey-based Godfather and ask to cut a deal. Needless to say, cutting a deal with the Mafia rarely works out in anyone’s favour and that remains true of The Four Seasons who spent the remainder of their career working to pay off Devito’s gambling debts.
The structure of the storyline for Jersey Boys is broken into four quarters. Each quarter represents one phase of their career and each is told from the perspective of a different member of the band. The musical starts off with Devito talking about how the band came together and how the early days of their success unfolded. The second chapter of the story is told by Bob Gaudio (who actually wrote the entire musical). He tells of the back stories behind some of the biggest hits they had. For example, as fame came to the band, they toured constantly which caused the marriage of Frankie Valli and his first wife, Mary, to fracture. This led to the song, “My Eyes Adored You”. Part Three is told by Nick Massi and involves how Tommy Devito began getting into trouble with his gambling and how that affected the rest of the guys in the band. Massi describes how the band was forced to negotiate with a mobster and how that caused Devito to have to be hidden away for awhile so as to keep him from gambling anymore. Part Four is told by Frankie Valli, himself. He describes how the band changed focus by placing him as the star (in the same way that Motown put Diana Ross in front of her partners in The Supremes). He tells of how they finally managed to pay off the debts that they owed but at the price of his second marriage failing, his daughter succumbing to a drug overdose and the band agreeing to part ways and break up. The musical concludes with their manager, Bob Crewe, describing what it was like, years later, for The Four Seasons to be inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and how it came to be that the four original members reunited for one final performance.
The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is quite the story. My personal connection to their work is not nearly as dramatic but it exists in my memories just the same so here goes. When I was in Grade 7, I attended my very first school dance. As one might expect, it was an awkward affair. I was never a wild party animal to begin with so the prospect of having to navigate these uncharted social waters filled me with dread. I wore tight polyester pants and a red flowery, Hawaiian silky shirt because my mother insisted that I “dress up” because that was what people of her generation did when they went to a dance. So, there I was, pimply-faced, overdressed and terrified to ask any of the girls to dance. The thing I remember most about the evening was that, for whatever reason, out of all the record albums available to our DJ that night, we had only one slow dance song. That song was “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Once the slow dances began and my friends started figuring out that slow dancing was the reason we were all here that night, “My Eyes Adored You” must have been played a dozen times at least! It may be a sweet song sung by Frank Valli’s about his first love but for me, I will always be taken right back to that night in our classroom dancehall at Brookside Street Elementary School where, true to my introverted nature, I was scared to be there and couldn’t wait for the night to be over.
The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons became Jersey Boys which, in turn, went on to win numerous Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Jersey Boys continues to be performed all over the world. Presently, it is holding court in The West End in London, England. Here is an interesting tidbit of note that shows how Art can imitate life…in real life, Tommy Devito was introduced to Bob Gaudio by actor (and fellow New Jerseyite), Joe Pesci. One of the movie characters that Pesci is best known for is from the movie, Goodfellas, where he played a mobster known as….you guessed it…Tommy Devito!
A final small personal connection for me comes in the form of a story about my mother-in-law. When iPod Shuffle players first came out my father-in-law asked us to order one for her as a birthday present because she liked to listen to music while going for walks. Once the gift was given, my mother-in-law asked to have some of her favourite songs placed on her new Shuffle. The first CD that she gave me to download was the soundtrack to Jersey Boys. She knew all of the lyrics by heart. But more importantly, she and my father-in-law both know how to dance and love to do so in front of my daughters. Unfortunately, I am still no better today than I was in Grade 7 however, if “My Eyes Adored You” were to be played, at least I would have a slow dance partner to have and to hold and that’s all that truly matters to me.
The link to the official website for the musical Jersey Boys can be found here.