"IT'S LIKE a big Italian wedding here tonight!"
That's what actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio exclaimed at the premiere of Clint Eastwood's screen version of Broadway's "Jersey Boys."
Indeed, inside the Paris Theater there was a more than the usually festive vibe. Premieres are always something special, but this one had, as James Mason said in "A Star is Born" -- "that little something extra."
Maybe it had to do with the excellent lasagna-heavy pre-premiere pre-party right across the street at the Plaza Hotel's Oak Room, hosted by designer Angelo Galasso?
Maybe it was the presence of the iconic Mr. Eastwood? Or such other notables as Candice Bergen, Clive Davis, Bebe Neuwirth, Cady Huffman, Richard Belzer, Tommy Tune, Tommy Mottola, Regis and Joy Philbin, Ingrid Sischy, theater's enfant wonderful Michael Riedel and Barbara Walters.
Naaahhh. This is New York. You can't get away from most of these charming people.
Nope, it was "Jersey Boys" that hyped the crowd. The beloved show has been running almost nine years on Broadway with no signs of slowing down. The magical music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (composed by Bob Gaudio, one of the Seasons) attracts fans that span several generations. It's a "jukebox" musical with grit and soul and humor. I've seen the stage version three times!
PERHAPS SEEING it so often onstage with the visceral atmosphere of the audience reactions, I can't help feeling a bit let down by the movie. It's not bad by any means, and the tightly packed mass in the Paris Theater loved it! There was wild applause at the end, and appreciative reactions throughout. (The abovementioned Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was often leaning forward in her seat, totally engaged, as if to jump right into the screen action.)
I was surprised when I heard Clint Eastwood was directing this film. It seemed not quite his genre. And "Jersey Boys" the movie, does feel like an Eastwood film. Maybe that's not a bad thing. There was very little glamour in life on the road, especially back in the days of Frankie Valli. And Eastwood captures a kind of grim, streetwise vibe and an ordinariness that one generally doesn't associate with these rise and fall tales. If you're looking for glamour, you won't find it in "Jersey." (Thematically, "Jersey Boys" breaks no new ground, but having each member of the group address their success/failure/truth/lies/betrayal/faithfulness sets it apart.)
Performances of the four leads, John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda -- are splendid. John Lloyd Young originated the role of Frankie on Broadway and the others have all played in various productions of the show. There is an inevitable suspension of disbelief at the beginning of the film, when everybody looks 35, even though they are supposed to be teenagers. (I don't think any of the actors are 35, but the cinematography is grim. Well, they were, most of them, street kids, in and out of jail and trouble before they formed a group and had success. It wasn't pretty, although it's certainly quite funny as presented!)
In any case, age issues fade as one gets into the movie. I mean, remember what the movie cast of "Grease" looked like?
ALSO NOTABLE are Joseph Russo as young Joe Pesci. (Yes, THE Joe Pesci), Freya Tingley as Frankie Valli's increasingly embittered and truculent first wife. (It was she who suggested "i" instead of 'y" at the end of Frankie's stage name. A fact she viciously throws back at him in one of the film's big scenes), Mike Doyle as the flamboyant but always on-target producer Bob Crewe, And, AND -- Christopher Walken as a mob boss. Walken's performance is perfect, funny, implausible and irresistible. His every moment onscreen is priceless. Oscar nomination for sure!
Clint Eastwood emphasized depth of character, a certain earthiness that perhaps the exuberant stage show is, well -- too exuberant to examine.
I guess I love exuberance. I might have to see the film again to appreciate it fully. I think the general movie audience won't have the slightest reservation. I smell a hit.
Now I have been writing here several times that "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" is the best musical on Broadway this year and it won the Tony last Sunday night.
So, will you listen to me now? I also wrote that "All the Way" (the LBJ drama with the great Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson) was the best original play on Broadway and that the star is the equal of the greatest British actors in thespian history. It also won "best play" and "best actor" at the Tonys.
And that outing was produced by my longtime friend Jeffrey Richards, who I've known since he was a pup.
So congratulations to all concerned and now, I hope you readers are convinced and you'll go to the theater if you possibly can.
And start paying attention to your friend Liz.
END THOUGHT: My friend Bill Maher has some stiff competition at last in the matter of late-night political satire/conversation on HBO. I do mean the rise of John Oliver. I suppose I might have seen him on Jon Stewart's show, where he appeared occasionally. On his own, however, on "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," he is simply brilliant. Profane and brilliant.
Last Sunday, Oliver did an incredible 10-minute bit on the World Cup Soccer matches in Brazil -- what it has cost, what it means for the people of Brazil, what will happen to the isolated multimillion-dollar stadium built for four games and the shady dealings of FIFA, aka "Federation Internationale de Football Association." The amount of information he packed in -- hilariously delivered -- was amazing.
There was also some delicious trashing of Syrian dictator/mass murderer Bashar al-Assad, with specificity on his iTunes favorites. One of which is "I'm Too Sexy" the quirky 1991 hit by Britain's duo, Right Said Fred.
So, John Oliver reunited Right Said Fred for a revamped version of their song dedicated to al-Assad, titled "You're Too Awful." The rest of the lyrics are mostly unprintable, but made their point.
John Oliver, stick around!
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Clint Eastwood's 'Jersey Boys' drives New Yorkers wild
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