All good things must come to an end, they say. So it is with the surprise-hit, Tony-winning Broadway production of Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which will close on January 15 after more then 11 years on the Great White Way and 4,642 performances, making it 12th-longest-running play in Broadway history. Among jukebox musicals, it is second only to Mamma Mia, based on ABBA songs, which closed in 2015 after 5,728 performances and ranks 8th all-time on Broadway. Jersey Boys, featuring the songs of the stellar songwriting team of original Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio and the group’s producer Bob Crewe (“Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll”), revived interest in the music of the early 1960s, when doo wop merged with early rock and roll. The great records of that era were like three-minute symphonies, with lush harmonies, driving rhythms and soaring, operatic solo turns for the lead singers.
So, with the shuttering of Jersey Boys on Broadway, will that retro style fade away once again? Not just yet and maybe never. The Jersey Boys national tour is booked through next July and college and high school revivals are sure to follow. Moreover, the success of Jersey Boys inspired several very similar imitators and perhaps others to come. Beautiful, based on the lives of the song-writing teams of Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“Some Kind of Wonderful,” “One Fine Day”) and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“On Broadway,” “Uptown”), is still going strong on Broadway. Motown the Musical has had two stints on Broadway and is currently on tour.
More surprisingly, Jersey Boys and its imitators have spawned an entire industry filled with young people who are making a good living by singing old songs of the Four Seasons and all the other top ’60s groups in clubs and concert halls and by rerecording those songs for CDs and downloads. Most of the talented young actors who have starred in Jersey Boys have formed their own groups or gone solo. We have the Midtown Men, Under the Streetlamp and the Doo Wop Project (composed of former cast members of both Jersey Boys and Motown the Musical). John Lloyd Young, Broadway’s original Frankie Valli, reprised that role in the Jersey Boys movie, put out an album called My Turn and became a cabaret star with his highly praised engagements at New York City’s Café Carlyle. Also big on the cabaret circuit is Jarrod Spector, who played both Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys and Barry Mann in Beautiful and has two albums out, Minor Fall, Major Lift and A Little Help From my Friends. Lately, Spector made a concession to modernity by adding one of another Jersey boy’s songs, “Born to Run,” to his act. Joseph Leo Bwarie, who first played Frankie Valli on the Jersey Boys tour and then moved to Broadway, enlisted industry legend Charles Calello, who did the original arrangements of most of the Four Seasons’ biggest hits and also worked with Frank Sinatra and Laura Nyro, to be Bwarie’s personal arranger and producer. The two albums Bwarie and Calello have collaborated on, Nothin’ But Love and The Good Stuff, feature classics ranging from Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” to King and Goffin’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and Gaudio and Crewe’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
While all these youngsters are singing the golden oldies, many of the original ’60s artists are still on the road, as if to proclaim, “Wait a minute, we’re not dead yet.” Now 82, Frankie Valli last month completed his second round of concerts in Broadway theaters while Jersey Boys was playing simultaneously just six blocks away. Amid his still-heavy concert schedule, Valli this year managed to record and release a new Christmas CD called ’Tis the Seasons. And among the frequent headliners at the B. B. King’s Blues Club in Times Square is the Valli tribute group the Jersey Four, whose musical director is former Four Season Joe Long. Meanwhile, the Seasons’ 54-year East-West rivalry with the Beach Boys still produces a fierce competition for baby-boomer dollars. Although a Beach Boys Broadway musical flopped in 2005, the latest incarnation of the group, fronted by original lead singer Mike Love, is still a big attraction, and you never can tell when they will reunite with Brian Wilson, as they did for their 50th anniversary in 2012.
Come to think of it, shouldn’t there always be a Beach Boys and a Four Seasons? Do the still-busy Temptations have to stop touring when Otis Williams, the last surviving original member, retires or dies? The four young men who have been touring with Frankie Valli as the Four Seasons for more than a decade — Brian Brigham, Brandon Brigham, Landon Beard and Todd Fournier — have been preparing for life without Frankie. They play their own club dates as a group called the Modern Gentlemen and have released a CD called The Modern Gentlemen, Volume I, featuring music by the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and the Bee Gees. (Your favorite not covered? Wait for Volume II.) When Valli retires, why shouldn’t they just keep touring as the Four Seasons? Like all those Jersey Boys, they’ve learned well how to hit Frankie’s famous high notes.
The big question is whether much of this music will survive the passing of its huge market, the baby-boomer generation. I don’t see why not. Just as I gained a love of the big-band sound by listening to my parents’ Glenn Miller records, hordes of young people have enjoyed Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Motown. I nominate the great early ’60s songwriters, including Crewe-Gaudio, King-Goffin, Mann-Weil, Brian Wilson and Motown’s Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Brian Holland, Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, to take their rightful place alongside such geniuses as Berlin, Porter, Duke Ellington, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein in the Great American Songbook. It’s fantastic that Bwarie includes so many of those greats together in his two albums. If future pop-music enthusiasts skip directly from Porter and the Duke to Nobel laureate Bob Dylan and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, they will be missing a lot. Yes, Jersey Boys will close, but I think Danny and the Juniors had it right when they sang, “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.”