Jersey Boys Musicals

The cast and crew of "Jersey Boys" in front of the Virginia Theatre in New York in August 2005: actor Daniel Reichard, left, co-writer Rick Elice, actor Christian Hoff, director Des McAnuff, actor John Lloyd Young, co-writer Marshall Brickman, and actor J. Robert Spencer. (Joe McNally / Getty Images)

At the height of their fame, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons churned out a string of hit singles about a rag doll, a girl named Sherry and a particularly memorable night in late December, back in '63.

The team behind the stage musical "Jersey Boys" has been singing a tune of its own during the last decade — a song of big money for its creators, investors and two members of the band that inspired it.

However successful Clint Eastwood's movie version is at the box office, it will have a tough time catching up to the original jukebox musical, one of the few shows on Broadway that can call itself a billion-dollar business.

The appeal of the original "Jersey Boys," first performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004, can be explained in part by the classic pop-song soundtrack and a rags-to-showbiz-riches story. But its success can also be explained in numbers — very large numbers.

The musical — a modestly scaled story of four fresh-faced crooners from Newark who shot to fame during the '60s — has been running on Broadway for close to nine years. It recently passed 3,560 performances at the August Wilson Theater in New York.

In Las Vegas, the show is 6 years old and has run for more than 2,500 performances. A West End production in London has been running about as long.

"Jersey Boys" passed $1.7 billion in worldwide grosses in March, according to Michael David, a co-founder of the Dodgers, a Broadway partnership that is one of the show's producers.

Much of that revenue has come from the Broadway production, whose ticket sales exceed $468 million. That's a long way from catching Disney's "The Lion King," which is eight years older and is the first musical to cross the $1-billion mark on Broadway.

"Jersey Boys" has been seen by more than 20 million people in 10 countries, including Australia, South Korea and South Africa.

Like other shows of its age — nine years is old by Broadway standards — "Jersey Boys" is no longer the hottest ticket in town. Sales have declined since the height of its popularity in 2007 and 2008. But it is believed to be profitable most weeks, and there are no announced plans to end its New York run.

This year, the show has averaged $715,843 per week in Broadway grosses, down nearly 19% from the comparable period last year. The Dodgers said the show's weekly running costs on Broadway are $400,000 to $500,000, below the average for a musical.

"Jersey Boys" demonstrates how a show well past its prime can still be lucrative for its key backers and creative team.

This certainly applies to the two original Four Seasons who were directly involved in the development of "Jersey Boys": Valli, who turned 80 last month, and Bob Gaudio, 71. (The other two band members were Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi).

Valli and Gaudio negotiated royalty percentages and profit participation early in the game that have ensured them a steady stream of revenue, which legal documents show includes as much as 6% of the musical's net profits.

In 2013, their take on the Broadway production alone was estimated to be at least $4.1 million. The figure is based on information in the documents as well as gross numbers and cost estimates provided by the Dodgers.

"Jersey Boys" cost $7.8 million to mount on Broadway when it opened in November 2005 and had recouped its investment by the following June, according to producers. The show received eight Tony nominations and won four, including the award for new musical.

When asked about the show's long life, director Des McAnuff said "it would have been completely immodest of me to predict that when we opened. I wouldn't have believed you, quite frankly."

He attributed the musical's legs partly to tight quality control: "There isn't a single actor in 'Jersey Boys' anywhere that I haven't approved or auditioned."

The idea for "Jersey Boys" was conceived in New York in 2002 at a lunch meeting that turned into a nearly six-hour brainstorm.

Rick Elice, an advertising veteran with writing aspirations, had been in touch with a former client who had acquired an option on the Four Seasons' catalog. (He declined to name the client.) A lunch was eventually arranged among Elice, writer Marshall Brickman, who was a friend of Elice, and Valli and Gaudio.