Saturday, May 17, 2014

Anticipating Jersey Boys

by Pa Rock
Chronic Critic

I have seen two astoundingly good productions of the hit musical, Jersey Boys - once on Broadway and another time in Vegas.  It is the story of the Four Seasons, one of the most popular singing groups of the 1960's.    It is, in many ways, a soundtrack of the sixties, and those of us of a certain age know practically every word of every song, and the urge to sing along is almost unbearable.

(I was in in the audience at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas back in the early 1990's when the Four Seasons opened a comeback tour.  Everybody was singing along, and at one point Frankie Valli, the lead singer, held his microphone toward the audience and said, "Go ahead.  You all know the words."  And we did!)

Jersey Boys is a great theatrical property, both in story and score, and I had such high hopes for the movie.   Now, just weeks before the release of the film, my enthusiasm has been curbed.

Oddly, Clint Eastwood, was chosen to direct the movie.  Clint, who has directed almost forty films,  has had a few critical successes.  I personally liked Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby.  But he has also fallen short on projects that could have easily been better.  His most recent directorial credit prior to Jersey Boys was J. Edgar - a weak and disappointing take on the life of a character who terrorized certain segments of America throughout most of the twentieth century, all the while trying to keep his personal demons well to the back of his bedroom closet. It could have been so much better - the material was deep, rich, and practically endless - but Clint chose to drive with the brakes on.

The cast of Jersey Boys, which is lengthy, appears to consist almost entirely of relative unknowns.  That could be a good thing - not having any stars to detract from the story.  But when the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) listed them by their rating on the "star meter," Christopher Walken was first, followed by Francesca Eastwood, you-know-who's daughter.  (Clint has a bit of a history in employing his off-spring.)

Then there is the question of Clint himself.  The well-seasoned actor and director will be eighty-four on the last day of this month.  Being a senior citizen myself (though nearly two decades younger than Clint), I like seeing the talents of the elderly being tapped - because we all have valuable things to offer.  But in the end, Clint is still Clint, and he will cast his shadow across the film.  I can't help wondering how a young and fairly unknown director would have approached this material - a film that could make a career.

Will Clint still be driving with the brakes on?

I am also concerned that the character of actor Joe Pesci does not appear in this movie.  Pesci, who did much to organize the Four Seasons as a singing group in real life, was also a major backer of the stage musical.   Did Pesci demand too much money for the use of his name in the film?  Did he want a part for himself?   Did he want some control over the project?  If Joe Pesci has been omitted, what other changes have been made?

Will any of the characters be talking to empty chairs?

Hopefully, I am being overly pessimistic.  I will be in the audience when Jersey Boys opens at one of my local theaters - sitting somewhere toward the back of the auditorium and singing along!

Come on Clint, make my day!

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