Before Beatlemania reduced grown women to whimpering wrecks, The Four Seasons were the sharp-suited musical heartthrobs of 1960s America.
The distinctive falsetto of lead singer Frankie Valli commanded attention on the radio and TV, producing three number one hits – Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like A Man – and all in the space of five months.
The band’s meteoric rise inspired Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to write the 2005 stage show Jersey Boys, which subsequently won four Tony Awards including Best Musical and continues to play to packed houses in London and New York.
Like so many musicals before it, Jersey Boys struts and swaggers from the stage onto the big screen.
Pitched halfway between a traditional musical and a gritty portrait of the bonds of brotherhood in New York City of the era, Clint Eastwood’s impeccably crafted period piece entertains but never truly delights.
Like the stage show, the film is festooned with the group’s toe-tapping hits including Beggin’, Bye Bye Baby and Oh What A Night.
However, these languidly shot renditions lack the electrical charge of live performance and it’s only in the film’s closing act, and during the end credits, that there is any danger of audiences leaping out of their seats and shimmying down aisles.
Sixteen-year-old Frankie Castelluccio (John Lloyd Young) lives with his parents (Kathrine Narducci, Lou Volpe), who urge him to stay out of trouble.
Best friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) leads him astray and Frankie almost ends up in prison but escapes incarceration by virtue of his age.
With encouragement from local mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), who becomes Frankie’s fairy godfather (with the emphasis on godfather), the teenager pursues his musical ambitions by changing his surname to Valli and joining Tommy’s band.
They recruit singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) alongside bassist Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and The Four Seasons are born.
Talented lyricist Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) ushers the boys onto the stairway to stardom but Tommy’s mounting debts create friction and threaten to tear the band apart.
Jersey Boys employs a similar narrative device to the stage production, allowing different members of the band to address the camera as their rags to riches story unfolds.
Vocal performances are note perfect and there are some delightful comical interludes involving Doyle and Walken, the latter easing into his gangster groove with a twinkle in the eye.
The running time may be virtually the same as its theatrical counterpart, but Eastwood’s film feels pedestrian and emotional subplots, including Frankie’s fractious relationship with his wife Mary (Renee Marino) and daughter Francine feel undernourished.
The period is, however, beautifully evoked though costumes and faultless art direction.
Just as Frankie and the boys predict, we can’t take our eye off of the screen.