By Pamela Singer, Jersey Boys Blog Special Correspondent
Friends, sometimes the stars really are in alignment, literally and figuratively. Last week in NYC, musical history was being made. Never again will Frankie Valli be performing on Broadway, while just 6 blocks away, a little show called Jersey Boys simultaneously tells the story of his life. It was my great pleasure to see Frankie’s fantastic show at the Lunt Fontanne on Saturday, as well as to watch Mark Ballas make a terrific debut as Frankie (more about that at another time!) at the August Wilson on Thursday. It’s been four years since Frankie was last on Broadway, and that’s four years too long. Memories of seeing him on a Saturday night in 2012 are fully inscribed in my mind.
Folks, there’s a reason Frankie has been a major and relevant musical powerhouse for over six decades, not only in show business, but also in our popular culture. The reason is TALENT, pure and simple. That talent was on display front and center at the spectacular show I attended. Ok, full disclosure here. I may be a bit biased about Frankie. Ever since he serenaded me with “Happy Birthday, Baby” on my Sweet 16th birthday at the Capital Theatre in New Jersey, I’ve been hooked. That said, my journalistic objectivity tells me the same thing as my heart does: this is a man with a voice as naturally beautiful and distinctive as anyone ever had, a voice as seductive as fine wine on a summer’s day. Bob Gaudio knew it after 8 bars. The rest of the world may have taken a little longer to catch on, but we made up for it with enthusiasm and adoration.
Saturday night, October 29 in New York City, walking down Broadway with one of my besties. The day’s earlier showers had stopped, as if not wanting to rain on Frankie Valli’s parade. Frankie’s face glistens on the Lunt Fontanne marque . (And, yes, Castellucio would be a little too long to fit on it!) Does it get any better than this?! Wanda Libardi and I made our way to our seats at this beautiful and historic theatre, admiring the chandeliers and rose gold stucco that decorates the ceilings and walls. If only those walls could talk! The audience was an intergenerational mix of people, ranging from baby boomers, to yes, several youngsters. Instrumental arrangements of Frankie’s and The Four Seasons’ hits wafted through the theatre, whetting our appetites for the real thing. You could practically hear the air crackle with anticipatory excitement. At 8:05, a giant screen on stage lit up with Frankie’s majestic face. Clips of him and the Seasons throughout the years followed, ending with Cher saying “And now, a man who has more hits then the Godfather!” Finally, we hear ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Frankie Valli!’ The curtain goes up and there he is, the legend himself, looking elegant in a black suit, surrounded by a nine- piece orchestra and four handsome back-up Seasons. Frankie knocks it out of the park from the get go with “Who Loves You,”sending the crowd into a frenzy. It’s crystal clear that we all do.
And the hits just kept on coming. “Dawn,” “Working My Way Back To You” and “Opus 17″ took us back, waaaaay back. I said to Wanda, ‘is this like being in a time machine or what?!’ Two beautiful arrangements of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” followed, Frank Sinatra’s and our Frankie’s. And, no, the latter didn’t need to change his name to the former! “Stay,” “Beggin’ ” and “My Eyes Adored You’,” all Jersey Boys favorites and put over perfectly, were followed by the up-tempo “Swearin’ To God.” By this time, the crowd was singing and clapping along, going wild and swearin’ to God this was one of the best concerts ever. Frankie was in as fine voice as I’d heard in a long time. My good friend and Four Seasons aficionado, Charles Alexander, was at a show later in the week, with friends who had come all the way from England, and described a similar crowd frenzy. As Charles aptly noted , “Everything about the show was stellar, with Frankie sounding as good as he had in decades.”
Frankie seemed relaxed and engaged with the audience, making jokes and even getting into it with a female heckler. And, yes, that was Frankie Valli belting out some rap lyrics like you’ve never heard! The man can sing anything! Finally, Frankie slowed it down a bit with three songs from his “Romancing The 60s,” CD,”Spanish Harlem,” “Let It Be Me” and “My Girl/Groovin’ ” before breaking for intermission.
I need to say a few words about the superb musicians and singers backing up Frankie. Robby Robinson, Frankie’s fantastic Musical Director, has been with him for 39 years. It’s clear that this is a match made in musical heaven. It was great to see Robby enthusiastically pounding the keyboards and orchestrating such a fabulous band. Frankie’s Seasons are brothers Brian and Brandon Brigham, Landon Beard and Todd Fournier. These guys are as talented as they are handsome. They have their own group, The Modern Gentlemen (themoderngentleman.net), and have performed all over the world, including for Prince William. Brian, who has been with Frankie for 13 years, told me that working with Frankie has been “fantastc, and an incredible learning experience.”
The second act started off with a rollicking rendition of “Grease,” followed by “Our Day Will Come.” Frankie prefaced the lesser known Bob Gaudio penned “Harmony, Perfect Harmony” with some fitting words about everyone getting along in a contentious election year, something we all need. Two crowd favorites came next, “Save it For Me” and “Tell it To The Rain.” Frankie then did a gorgeous version of “Silence is Golden,” then launched into a raucous “December ’63,” which got the crowd on its feet. And no one lost their virginity during the song! Next came my personal favorite, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” It was a special few moments during which every female (and likely some males!) in the theatre closed their eyes and imagined Frankie was singing this to them. Also surreal was knowing that 6 blocks away, at almost the same time, Mark Ballas was seducing the audience at the August Wilson with that very song. Frankie’s moon must have been in Taurus! And then of course, the Big 3, “Sherry,” “Walk Like A Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The medley was introduced by a gorgeous acapella rendition of “Sherri” by Frankie’s Seasons. And then before we knew it, the show was over, 2-plus hours sailing by on a cloud of music and nostalgia. Frankie came back out to do two terrific encores, “Rag Doll” and “Let’s Hang On,” before exiting to thunderous applause and appreciation. What a thrill to experience this amazing performer singing his heart out and giving 200% after more than 6 decades in show business.
After the show, we were fortunate to go backstage to speak with Frankie and congratulate him on an amazing performance and career. And, yes, I did remind him that he had made this Jersey girl very happy all those years ago on her birthday, and for many more Saturday nights through the years. He laughed, and I like to think that we had a moment! They ask you, what was the best part about tonight, sharing such a special experience with a good friend, listening to a legend sing these incredible songs that are so meaningful, chatting with Frankie backstage after the show? It was all great, but my favorite moment of the night wasn’t a musical one. At one point, Frankie’s Seasons introduced themselves and said where they were from. Then Frankie stepped forward and said, simply, “My name is Frankie, and I’m a Jersey Boy.”My heart flip flopped, and I smiled and thought, “You sure are. Always and ever my and our very own Jersey boy.” Let’s hope that he just keeps on going and going and going, like that bunny on TV, chasing the music, trying to get home. Who loves you indeed.