SCENE & HEARD: ‘Jersey Boys’

Jersey Boys

Written by UTG critic Grace Duffy, Scene & Heard takes a look at the music that makes our favorite films so memorable. Whether it’s the 400-piece orchestra Christopher Nolan used for ‘The Dark Knight,’ or the dozen or so bands that contributed to the soundtrack of ‘Top Gun,’ there is no denying the impact music has on movies and this column hopes to highlight the best of the best.

Clint Eastwood is probably the last name you’d expect to see flash up onscreen on a cinematic adaptation of a musical about the Four Seasons. But lo, the great man has hidden depths, and his take on the hit Jersey Boys stage show is a pleasantly entertaining romp for all that it can never quite figure out what it is. It’s faithful enough to its roots to embrace theatrics – right down to the all-out show number on which it ends and breaking the fourth wall narration – but works in more than one pleasing nod to the gangster pantheon, including a knowing gag about Joe Pesci. Despite a charismatic turn from Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, the film has a tendency to amble where it should strut, downplaying its human drama but never providing quite enough dazzle to compensate. Especially for a picture about show business, it often comes across as staid and ordinary where it should be maximising the glitz of the era it serenades.

Fittingly enough, however, none of these issues afflict the soundtrack, which comes infused with all the life and spectacle that the film itself tends to lack. The muted tones and idle pacing is transformed on record into something bright and bold and glamorous, paying fond-hearted homage to the nostalgic glamour of the era in which it is set. The album mixes original recordings by the Four Seasons with cast renditions, making for more than one striking juxtaposition between legend and actor – the real Frankie Valli is infinitely more alluring than John Lloyd Young, but the latter has a splendour all his own on record, and one that – disappointingly – was nowhere to be found in his onscreen turn. His rendition of “My Eyes Adored You” is romantic and elegant but also breezily contemporary, incorporating equal parts sophistication and melancholy. Equally, “Dawn (Go Away)” feels like a modern indie at times, jubilant and soulful, but the orchestration and backing vocals are a fond throwback to a more resplendent era.

The album alternates between upbeat, showy numbers and slower, more luxuriant pieces, ensuring no one mood ever becomes too prevalent. It makes for an overall listen that’s oddly refreshing – bright and doe-eyed but knowing, distilling the livelier essences of a stage show into a tightly-honed record. There’s a lot to be said, mind, for a discography that includes such familiar and feelgood favourites as “Working My Way Back To You” and “December 1963 (Oh What A Night).” Some of these numbers you’ll have entirely forgotten were even performed by the Four Seasons in the first place, and hearing the original, ardent, infectious version of “Beggin'” for instance, is a breath of fresh air after countless reworkings that eroded much of the song’s character.

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” has been utterly destroyed for all subsequent performers by Heath Ledger’s seminal – hell, iconic – rendition in 10 Things I Hate About You, but Young takes the opportunity to revive a sense of innocence in his earnest performance, before the song segues into familiar grandstanding. “Sherry” may as well be the film’s centrepiece and is absolutely guaranteed to get stuck in your head for so long you may become vaguely suicidal. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is a landmark piece in selling the whimsy and playful allure of this era and the version included here is largely faithful – authentic and mischievous, with lovingly precise arrangements. Other key numbers such as “Walk Like A Man” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” are sweet and nostalgic, bringing a lively sense of occasion to the album amidst more intimate fare.

Where the film may occasionally lack the requisite spring in its step – at least until the showstopping finale – the soundtrack to Jersey Boys rarely disappoints. By turns wholesome and brash, romanticised and frank, it is never less than sincere – a stirring recreation of a bygone era and its very specific kind of magic.

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