With the 2014 Tony Awards only a few weeks ago, it’s as good a time as ever to re-immerse yourself in the culture of musical theater. The format of the “Jukebox Musical” – essentially an awesome mixtape with an underlying plot – has definitely carved its own niche in popular culture in the past few years with Mamma Mia, Rock of Ages and lest we forget that little TV phenomenon they call Glee all proving that there’s still a huge market for the all-singin’ all-dancin’ extravaganza in the digital age. Jersey Boys – the biographical recount of immortal Doo-wop legends Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons began its run on Broadway in 2005 and this month, makes its way to the big screen under the somewhat unlikely guidance of director and film icon Clint Eastwood.
There’s little chance that you haven’t encountered songs like December 1963 (Oh What a Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like a Man or Big Girls Don’t Cry somewhere in your pop-culture travels and this is as much a testament to the genius of the group’s songwriting as Valli’s unmistakable falsetto. Here on the official soundtrack to the film, all of these and many more are lovingly revisited by a virtually unknown but phenomenal cast of rising stars. The core of said cast includes John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda and Vincent Piazza, all of whom flawlessly inhabit the roles with musicality and heart. The cast performances are also balanced with a handful of the original Four Seasons recordings for those unfortunate enough not to have grown up with the music of one of Motown’s finest acts.
Possibly one of the most striking things about the Jersey Boys soundtrack is the incredible, theater-trained dexterity of Lloyd Young’s voice. Being the only main cast member to return from the original run in 2005, it’s more than his faithful impersonation of Valli – he clearly has an incredible range as a vocalist on his own steam (see the impressive take on jazz standard Moody’s Mood For Love). As Eastwood recently revealed on The Tonight Show, all the vocals were performed live on-set (much like the 2012 box-office adaptation of Les Miserables) lending a unique authenticity to each performance that extended advertisements for Autotune like Glee (Sorry Gleeks!) usually manage to gloss over.
Some of the songs unfortunately border a little too close on the “cheesy” side of things (like the wailing sax solo in My Eyes Adored You) but this is kind of to be expected in a musical and easily forgiven when classics like Working My Way Back To You and Sherry are recreated in such a reverent yet refreshingly original way. The vocal interplay of the Stay/Let’s Hang On/Opus 17/Bye Bye Baby medley is perfectly executed and while the stinging falsetto may be a bit much for some, it’s impressive nonetheless.
While it’s a little difficult to adequately review a motion picture soundtrack when it’s divorced from the plot of the film/theater show itself, as a standalone collection, the Jersey Boys soundtrack serves as a pretty great introduction to one of popular music’s greatest entities as performed by the group themselves and those who cherish their legacy.