Entertainment & Arts

Clint Eastwood brings Jersey Boys to the big screen

Image copyright Keith Bernstein
Image caption The musical Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in 2005 and has won four Tony Awards including best musical

He is the four time Oscar-winning director known for powerful dramas including Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven, Mystic River, Grand Torino and Letters from Iwo Jima.

Jersey Boys is a Tony-award winning, feel-good Broadway musical about the band behind some of the most successful pop songs of the 20th century. So why did Clint Eastwood decide to make the movie version of The Four Seasons' story?

"I was mainly interested in how these four semi-delinquent juveniles who didn't grow up under the best of circumstances, made it big," replies Eastwood, who turned 84 in May.

"They were actually working-class boys living on the periphery of the mob, pulling off petty crimes and even doing jail time.

"Then the music set in and saved them - if it hadn't, Frankie Valli himself says he would have ended up dead in the back of a mobster's car trunk."

The Four Seasons, whose original line up comprised of lead singer Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito, were one of America's most successful bands between 1962 and 1970.

Image copyright Keith Bernstein
Image caption Clint Eastwood cast three out of the four main parts from the members of the Broadway stage show

The band had several million-selling singles including Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Dawn, Bye Bye Baby and Who Loves You.

They were all sung in Valli's distinctive falsetto, which even became officially known as the "sound of Frankie Valli".

After an acrimonious split with DeVito, leaving the band half a million dollars in debt, Valli went on to have a successful solo career, including a worldwide number one hit in 1978 with the title track from Grease.

He recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and served as an executive producer on the movie.

'Not a musical'

"The thing is, this is a Clint Eastwood movie, it just happens to have music in it," argues John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony Award for playing Valli on stage in New York and London, and who reprises the role in the film.

"We really want to make sure that the audience knows that it is typical of Clint Eastwood, in its look, pace and style - it just happens to be Jersey Boys.

"It's a dark, gritty film but just like in his other movies, like Unforgiven, his wicked sense of humour pops through in the middle of high drama.

"People keep asking us, 'why has Clint Eastwood done a mainstream musical?' But he composes scores for his films, and many of his films, like Play Misty for Me, Honky Tonk Man and Bird are about music.

"I also think that the story of Jersey Boys has themes he loves to explore - it's the story of common men who undergo a life-changing experience, and like in Mystic River, it's about working class boys who grow up together and then drift apart."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Christopher Walken who also stars in the film attended a special New York screening with Clint Eastwood

Despite the re-iteration from the cast the film "is not the musical," Eastwood not only recorded most of the songs live on set, but breaks the so-called "fourth wall of film", with each member of the band narrating directly to camera.

The director also places a set piece song-and-dance number at a strategic point in the movie, where audiences will get to see actor Christopher Walken dancing again after his famous Weapon of Choice video with Fatboy Slim, and in another musical role after 2007's Hairspray.

Confessing he had never seen the musical Jersey Boys before agreeing to make the film, Eastwood went on to cast three out of the four main parts from the members of the Broadway stage show, saying "I don't want big stars - I just want the best actors."

First movie trepidation

Young, Michael Lomenda and Erich Bergen were all new to film and TV, with only Boardwalk Empire's Vincent Piazza having worked in the industry.

"I actually think it was a smart idea for Mr Eastwood to do that," says Young. "He's known for doing quick 40-day shoots, for bringing in films in time and under budget, and what better way to do it then hire the guys who already know the show inside out?

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Media captionEmma Jones caught up with some of the stars of the movie

"That's not to say we didn't approach the shoot with trepidation. It's a first movie, and it's with him, who has decades of experience."

"He's still producing a film a year," adds Bergen. "I remember sitting on the set in Los Angeles on the first day, and he sits down next to me. I'm thinking to myself, 'he's starting to get up there in age, could we really be in the last ever Clint Eastwood movie?

"And then he says casually that he's just agreed to take over American Sniper next from Steven Spielberg. I'm thinking, do you ever take a break? He's unstoppable."

Reviews for Jersey Boys have been mixed. While Time Magazine called it a "a turgid botch", the Radio Times placed it "somewhere in between a gangster flick and a big splashy song-and-dance show... with a catalogue of jukebox hits that will lift you off your seat".

Trade newspaper Variety opined "it never fully decides what kind of movie it wants to be."

Boys making good

Eastwood though, believes the strength of the story is in the origins of the band in the working-class roots of 1950s New Jersey, of local boys making good.

"When Frankie Valli started out, he took a lot of ridicule for his voice, and singing in that neighbourhood was tough. He says himself, that the only way out of his roots was to join the army and get killed, join the mob and get killed, or get famous. He took the third option."

Image copyright Denise Truscello
Image caption Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli received a star on Las Vegas Walk Of Stars in 2013

Valli is still performing today in his ninth decade, and with the success of the Broadway musical, the Four Seasons' music sales has now topped around 175 million globally, with Valli and Gaudio owning most of the recording catalogue.

The film's cast say that if nothing else, the music will drown out the critics:

"During the stage show, it was never the T-shirts or other merchandise that sold," remembers Lomenda.

"It was always the CDs, and as we'd leave the parking lot we would hear all these songs - Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Working My Way Back To You - blaring out.

"These songs are blue collar east coast of America and from a certain period of time, but for some reason, they still speak to the world."

Jersey Boys is released in UK cinemas on June 20th.

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