In Clint Eastwood’s buoyant “Jersey Boys,” Frankie goes to Hollywood. Frankie Valli, that is, the lead singer of the Four Seasons, whose popularity in the heyday of AM pop radio was not far behind the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.
Until the Tony-winning 2005 Broadway musical returned them to the spotlight, the quartet had followed their 1960s popularity with decades of obscurity. Yet when the idea of dramatizing the group’s story first arose, Valli wasn’t all that keen on the notion.
“Frankie in the beginning had an uneasy relationship with this property,” said John Lloyd Young, a Broadway newcomer who originated the role of Valli and plays him in the film, which opens Friday. He was in Minneapolis last week with his co-stars Erich Bergen, who plays the group’s songwriter Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lomenda, who plays singer/arranger Nick Massi. It was Gaudio who favored turning the group’s catalog into a breezy show that nevertheless honestly reflected their personal travails and mob connections. “Frankie has always been very reserved about that, probably because the stakes, when they were coming up, were so high,” said Young. “You didn’t want to let your private life out.”
“It was only a few years after someone like Ingrid Bergman had been blacklisted from Hollywood for getting divorced,” Bergen said. “Now you get divorced and it ensures that you’re on the cover of People magazine. It’s good for your career. Then it ruined your career.”
“It’s also that Jersey Italian thing, where you keep your secrets internal,” Young said. “He had an uneasy feeling about it. He wanted the story to be told a certain way. His attitude was, ‘This is my life, that’s not how it went.’ ” While it took years for him to let go, by the time Valli came to the film set, “he was just our friend,” Young said.
In an unusual audition process, Eastwood chose Bergen, Lomenda and Young after watching their performances in different stage productions.
Bergen confessed that though he had played his character for years onstage, he was scared when filming began. “I never imagined myself in a Clint Eastwood movie, but he’s just the nicest man. Coming from a musical-theater background where everything’s micromanaged, it was shocking to realize that someone who made great movies would be so open and collaborative,” Bergen said.
Their filming experience wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. “There’s a whole section that didn’t make the final cut of the film where we’re just starting out and touring cross-country,” Lomenda said. “The idea is we go to this gig in the middle of nowhere, it goes really poorly, we get in a huge bar brawl.”
“They’re throwing beer bottles at us while we’re onstage,” Young said.
“We go to drive away from it and our car breaks down,” Lomenda said.
“Smoke is going in our faces. We’re choking,” Young said.
“And insult to injury, we have to hitchhike in the back of a farmer’s truck with all his pigs,” Lomenda said. “These were live pigs!”
“That’s when the pigs decided to let it all out,” Young said. “We were literally dodging pig excrement. There were some bales of hay and we were climbing up on them like the cliché of a lady in a cartoon up on a table to get away from a mouse.”
“The really sad thing is that Clint is known for not including deleted scenes on his DVDs. I’m trying to get the fans to start a Twitter campaign to make sure that these are released,” Bergen said. “I mean, this isn’t a serious film like ‘Mystic River.’ This is ‘Jersey Boys.’ ”