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Jersey Boys ***

Is it worth $10 Yes

There may not be a better compliment for a musical than this: The songs are good, but the story’s even better. One of the real pleasures of “Jersey Boys” is that yes, it is a fine jukebox musical featuring the work of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but it’s also an emotional story about friendship and the mafia.

This is a movie with real surprises and deep emotions. Based on the Best Musical Tony Award-winning Broadway show, in mid-1950’s New Jersey Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) is a small-time crook with a big-time attitude. He’s also an aspiring musician alongside bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and lead singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for his Broadway performance). The group struggles for success as control freak Tommy leads them nowhere; it’s not until songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) joins the band and producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) gives them a chance that they find success. Soon, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” are number one hits in the early ‘60s; Valli and Gaudio would later have success with “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” among others.

Surprisingly, underneath the squeaky-clean boy band image of “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons” lays deep-seeded resentment that tears at the fabric of their unity. Tommy’s business with a Mafioso (Christopher Walken) and accruing debt to a loan shark are the real danger, but competition over women and getting the band arrested because he doesn’t pay the hotel bill don’t help either. Tommy’s a guy who’ll go to the end of the earth to have your back, but will also take you to the end of the earth and leave you there.

Eastwood keeps the narrative moving forward steadily, rarely pausing for full songs in the interest of brevity (still, it runs 134 minutes). Unlike other theatrical adaptations the film never feels “stage-y,” in part because Eastwood is unafraid to move the camera and include cinematic flourishes. When the group performs on American Bandstand, for example, we see them from the front, back and both sides, thereby immersing us in the performance in a way theatre never could. The camera is also able to give us close-ups that allow the heavy emotional moments to register with intensity.

The actors playing The Four Seasons – John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda – played their characters on stage as well, which allowed Eastwood to record the music live on the set (Piazza has limited singing experience, but holds his own). The effect of this is a refined, energetic live performance, which is about as close as we can get to experiencing the theatrical production.

“Jersey Boys” certainly appeals to an older generation that remembers The Four Seasons fondly, but anyone who likes good music and a good story will have no trouble enjoying this.

Did you know?

In the movie we see Joe Pesci – yes, that Joe Pesci – introduce Frankie, Tommy and Nick to Bob Gaudio. Ironically, the name of Pesci’s character in his Oscar-winning turn in “Goodfellas” (1990) was Tommy DeVito (rest assured they’re two different Tommys).