WALK LIKE A MAN

John Lloyd Young has been re­hears­ing for this movie for years, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM -

BROAD­WAY is the source of many of Hol­ly­wood’s most mem­o­rable mo­ments and movies. But the Broad­way talent tread­ing the boards of stage mu­si­cals rarely move seam­lessly across to cin­ema. A litany of hit mod­ern mu­si­cals, in­clud­ing Phan­tom of the Opera, Chicago, Hair­spray, Rock of Ages, Mamma Mia! and Les Mis­er­ables, have re­cently been re-imag­ined for the big screen, some­times barely, and each time mem­bers of the troupes that orig­i­nally built the show on stage were passed over for movie stars.

That’s un­der­stand­able, if only for commercial rea­sons, which makes Clint East­wood’s de­ci­sion to cast his adap­ta­tion of Jersey Boys with four rel­a­tive un­knowns — three di­rectly from the stage show — all the more re­mark­able.

East­wood has gone against type, again, di­rect­ing the film ver­sion of the mul­ti­ple Tony Award-win­ning stage show chron­i­cling the life of the Amer­i­can pop band the Four Sea­sons and its hon­ourable lead singer, Frankie Valli.

The 84-year-old cast sev­eral mem­bers of the stage pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing Tony win­ner John Lloyd Young in the lead and Erich Ber­gen and Michael Lomenda in their roles re­spec­tively as song­writer Bob Gau­dio (who shares ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer cred­its with Valli) and bassist Nick Massi. It is a movie aber­ra­tion see­ing Broad­way stars reprise their roles on screen.

“I’m glad the aber­ra­tion went my way, that’s for sure,” Young says, laugh­ing.

Only Young came from the orig­i­nal 2005 New York pro­duc­tion; Ber­gen came from the Las Ve­gas show and Lomenda from the Toronto and tour­ing pro­duc­tions (the show also played Mel­bourne and Syd­ney (2009-2011).

East­wood also threw in Christo­pher Walken as the lo­cal mob boss who men­tored and pro­tected the young Valli, Gyp DeCarlo, and Board­walk Em­pire’s Vin­cent Pi­azza, for a touch of screen cred.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion,” notes Young, who says he was torn when he heard the film adap­ta­tion was in de­vel­op­ment. Af­ter play­ing the orig­i­nal lead Jersey Boys role and singing on the orig­i­nal cast record­ing, Young felt “some­what” that he had “a legacy at the be­gin­ning of this thing that be­came a world­wide hit.”

He was anx­ious. “I was used to be­ing the orig­i­nal guy, so the idea of some­one else do­ing it was very un­com­fort­able to me,” he re­calls.

“I had to get my head around the idea that some­one else might be play­ing my role.”

And the cast­ing could be fickle. Ber­gen pre­vi­ously au­di­tioned for the film when Iron Man’s Jon Favreau was set to di­rect (he went on to di­rect the smaller Chef in­stead), but he didn’t get the part. Ber­gen claimed a cast­ing di­rec­tor called his agent and said, “He’s not right for the role,” to which Ber­gen’s agent asked, “You mean the role he’s played for three years?”

Young says play­ing Valli be­came the pin­na­cle of his early days in New York af­ter he im­ple­mented some kind of ca­reer plan. He was al­ways in­ter­ested in film “but I wanted at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer to be the best ac­tor pos­si­ble and in an old-fash­ioned way I thought theatre was the best way to be that.”

He’d per­formed in other stage shows and “af­ter sev­eral years of strug­gle”, his per­for­mance as the hon­ourable New Jersey teen, who by­passes a ca­reer in crime with some mates to shepherd them through.

Get­ting to the role of Valli wasn’t all bad though, he re­calls. “It takes a main­stream suc­cess to get an ac­tor known but you have per­sonal suc­cesses be­fore then.”

For­tu­itously, years af­ter his Tony Award win for the per­for­mance, Young re­turned to per­form in the pro­duc­tion just as East­wood was de­vel­op­ing his next project af­ter the dis­parate run of Gran Torino, Hereafter and the biopics In­vic­tus (about South Africa’s rugby tri­umph un­der pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela) and J. Edgar (Young also re­cently opened Jersey Boys’ West End run in Lon­don).

Young didn’t au­di­tion for East­wood. The di­rec­tor cast him af­ter see­ing him on stage. “And the next time I saw him was on set.” Young says.

The ac­tor didn’t think twice about the in­stant au­di­tion process.

“I gotta tell ya, the Jersey Boys show and the part of Frankie Valli is quite a feat so I can’t imag­ine a bet­ter au­di­tion than be­ing in com­mand of the role in front of thou­sands of people each night,” he says. “I can’t imag­ine do­ing a bet­ter per­for­mance in a room in Los Angeles full of film people.”

East­wood’s ver­sion is a faith­ful ren­der­ing of the stage show’s book with its writ­ers, Mar­shall Brick­man and Rick Elice, also pen­ning the screen­play.

And what ap­pears on screen to be an un­con­ven­tional move by the di­rec­tor — film­ing the char­ac­ters’ asides to cam­era which re­veal their own ver­sions of the truth — comes from the stage show.

But the di­rec­tor aimed for his own kind of movie truth by record­ing the singing live with additional live ac­com­pa­ni­ment. That was some ask con­sid­er­ing the Four Sea­sons’ hits, in­clud­ing Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man, mainly used four vo­cal­ists, rather than so­los, and high­lighted Valli’s falsetto, which is a par­tic­u­lar stretch.

Young ad­mits “my trep­i­da­tion about trans­lat­ing the role to screen was larger than it ac­tu­ally hap­pened to be”.

He can say that now be­cause he is the film’s best as­set, be­side its ac­ces­si­ble story.

Young had to play Valli aged 16, when he was

into

mu­sic, was

the

break-

Jersey Boys an en­er­getic if in­se­cure teen who could have fol­lowed his mates down the wrong path, to age 56 when the band re­unite as they are in­ducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In be­tween. Young’s Valli ex­pe­ri­ences the highs of pop star­dom and the lows of mar­riage trou­bles, cre­ative dif­fer­ences and the bur­den of a mob chas­ing Tommy DeVito’s bad debts.

Young was con­fi­dent he could build the char­ac­ter with East­wood be­side him. “I def­i­nitely knew he knew film­mak­ing and he was a safety net for me in ev­ery sin­gle way,” he says.

East­wood was equally con­fi­dent, he told a US press con­fer­ence last week. “Cast­ing for me is one of the most im­por­tant things next to the writ­ing,” the dual Os­car-win­ner for Un­for­given and Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby said.

“If you cast it prop­erly it takes place very eas­ily, but if you cast it im­prop­erly you are fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle.”

The stage held Young in good stead, not that he knew it ini­tially. He laughs at the mem­ory of run­ning an idea by his di­rec­tor. In one mo­ment in the stage show, Young told East­wood, Valli turns on a line to­wards the au­di­ence, height­en­ing its dra­matic mo­ment. Young asked how could he get that on film? East­wood replied dryly, “Just turn to­wards the cam­era.”

“I re­alised my in­stincts from the stage I could just take to the set and if some­thing wasn’t work­ing, he would cor­rect me,” Young says. “We worked re­ally well to­gether.”

Nev­er­the­less, Jersey Boys the film is a step up from the stage show. Young says “across the board ev­ery­thing had to go up an­other level”.

“On stage you’re the mas­ter of cer­e­monies for an au­di­ence of 1000 people but on screen you don’t have to worry about the back row of the theatre, so it was a much more metic­u­lous process.”

Broadly, the film is not as fluffy as the stage show and the re­la­tion­ships are given more room to work. And, as Young notes, “It’s a Clint East­wood movie; his sen­si­bil­ity al­ways brings forth the dark side of re­la­tion­ships, so the un­der­belly comes through.”

And be­cause it’s a film, ev­ery­thing goes deeper. The recre­ations of 1960s New York and New Jersey are rich. “Ev­ery sin­gle el­e­ment of the en­vi­ron­ment of these people’s lives is ac­tu­ally por­trayed,” Young says. “Just on that level alone, we see so much more.”

And for Young, there’s one last­ing legacy: now he can’t sep­a­rate his pro­fes­sional per­sona from Valli’s. “And that’s ab­so­lutely fine,” Young says. “Like it or not, our lega­cies are con­nected for the rest of time now. We’ve been friendly and in touch for years now and we’re very happy.”

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