Should ‘Jersey Boys’ Have Cast Movie Stars?

Jersey Boys MOvie

A debate about Clint Eastwood's new movie musical

When Hollywood brings a Broadway show to the bigscreen, the first casualty is usually the stage actors. This dates back to 1964’s “My Fair Lady,” which passed Julie Andrews over for Audrey Hepburn (with Marni Nixon dubbing the singing). Idina Menzel recently revealed that she and Kristin Chenoweth were told they were too old for the upcoming “Wicked” movie. And sometimes, recasting is inevitable: By the time “Chicago” made it in front of cameras after a protracted development process, it was more than 25 years since the original Broadway production. Director Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables” suffered a similar fate.

SEE ALSO: Clint Eastwood on ‘Jersey Boys,’ ‘American Sniper,’ Steven Spielberg

Which is why Clint Eastwood’s decision to keep the stage cast of “Jersey Boys” is an anomaly. John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for originating on Broadway nine years ago, is back as Four Seasons crooner Franki Valli. Erich Bergen (who plays songwriting prodigy Bob Gaudio) starred in both the Las Vegas and national touring companies of “Jersey.” And Michael Lomenda (the slow-burn bassist Nick Massi) is also a vet of the national tour. Young and Bergen each have only one previous film credit on their resumes. Lomenda is making his film acting debut.

Does the movie work with these stage actors? Variety’s Scott Foundas and Ramin Setoodeh stage a fight!

Ramin: Scott, I know you’ve seen the “Jersey Boys” film twice now (which is a brave undertaking) and you believe the stage actors successfully made the transition onscreen, but I disagree. For me, it was almost as bad as Chris Columbus’ 2005’s “Rent” movie, which also kept most of the Broadway actors even though they had aged out of the material. I saw the play “Jersey Boys” in previews, and Young made a brilliant Valli onstage. But he shouldn’t have been cast in the film — he just seems ancient now, and he doesn’t have the screen presence to carry a film. I kept thinking I was witnessing a bad Lifetime production. Although to be fair, Lifetime would have at least enlisted some better-known “American Idol” contestants to play the Four Seasons.

Scott: I agree with you about “Rent” — a horrible movie by any measure — where everybody was supposed to be in their teens or late 20s, but no one looked a day under 35. But in a way, if that cast had aged out of their roles, Eastwood’s has aged into theirs. In 2005, when “Jersey Boys” first opened on Broadway, John Lloyd Young was actually younger than the real Valli was during many of the events depicted in the show. Now, at 39, he’s the same age Valli was when he recorded “My Eyes Adored You” and seems, I would argue, more convincingly weathered and beaten-down as the ’70s-era Frankie onscreen than he did onstage. It would have been easy, of course, for Eastwood to go the celebrity route, or simply to use actors with more film experience, but as the director himself said to me in a recent interview, “You’ve got people who’ve done 1,200 performances: How much better can you know a character?” And indeed, it’s part of the appeal of Eastwood’s film that his Jersey Boys look like real Jersey boys–that is, ordinary kids from the neighborhood rather than airbrushed movie stars. And they can sure sing a hell of a lot better than Russell Crowe.

FILM REVIEW: “Jersey Boys”

Ramin: Can we talk about the singing? The whole point of casting Broadway stars in a movie is to let us hear their great voices. Eastwood and his editor told you his actors did sing live on the set, with a band offscreen doing the accompaniment, but the songs still sounded to me as pre-recorded as an episode of “Glee.” I won’t defend Russell Crowe in “Les Mis,” but I can suggest a list of stronger alternatives for the “Jersey Boy” movie, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling, Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Tveit or Jim Sturgess. Speaking to Variety at the New York premiere, Bergen said that when he was playing the show in Vegas, he dream casted Zac Efron in one of the roles. And the former teen star would have helped at the box office too. According to early tracking, “Jersey Boys” is looking at a $12 million opening weekend, in large part because of the unknown cast.

Scott: Well, I won’t fault the movie for being less commercial, especially as one of the few non-tentpole studio attractions out there this summer. Who knows if bigger stars would have made a difference? It certainly didn’t in the cases of “Nine” and “Rock of Ages,” to name but two. In any event, I strongly disagree about the quality of the soundtrack: Eastwood’s sound team won well-deserved Oscars for their work on his prior musical drama, “Bird,” in which they ingeniously mixed preexisting mono tracks of Charlie Parker with newly recorded stereo ones of contemporary musicians posthumously accompanying him, and I’d argue that the recording work on “Jersey Boys” is every bit as adept. Singing to pre-recorded isn’t always a death knell either — see Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” — but the uncanny way in which Young and his co-stars re-create the Four Seasons’ immortal harmonies is, as it was onstage, worth the price of admission alone.

Ramin: No, it’s not! If you want to see “Jersey Boys,” buy a ticket to the Broadway show. Eastwood, at 84, is still cranking out movies, but he hasn’t made a good one since 2008’s “Gran Torino.” I’d rank “Jersey Boys” behind “Invictus,” “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar.” I hope he finds his footing again with Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper.” Certainly, the costume choices in that film look intriguing.

Scott: “Sniper” may be more of an obvious Eastwood project — a continuation of his career-spanning interest in the men and machines of modern warfare — but if nothing else “Jersey Boys” is fascinating evidence of how eager Eastwood seems, even at this very advanced stage of his career, to try new things. And that’s something worth singing about!

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  1. Kathleen Thomas says:

    What bah humbug drivel from someone that does not know good if it slapped him in the face. This movie could not have been any better. The names of the “stars” he suggest do not even come close to doing the job that these four gentlemen did. And OMG John Lloyd Young walked away with all four awards (never done before) given for the Broadway version Jersey Boys and this wanna be “critic” thinks someone else would have been better in the part. This “critic” needs to go back to assembly line work.

    • MaryKay Pennington says:

      Just viewed Jersey Boys again . These actors drew me in completely. No one could have played them better. Not sure WTF this critic was attempting but IMO, he only made himself appear lacking in good sense. I was a teen & freaking out over Frankie & the Four Seasons. This movie & its actors portrayed those years Vividly & honest. The price of success….had me in tears for Frankie Valli more than once. Academy Award movie, far as I feel it.

  2. Susan says:

    Movie is perfect. I’ve discovered my two new favorite singers, and my new favorite movie. I just wish I could have seen the movie in the theatre.

  3. Don Gosney says:

    What’s a newspaper to do when they have not one but two of their critics trash a movie and 44 of the 49 comments posted so far disagree with them? Should they be polishing their resumes and looking for jobs better suited to their ‘talents’?

  4. Don Gosney says:

    Is it wrong to watch a movie just to be entertained? This was an enjoyable movie and the cast did a great job. Had I not found out later, I would have assumed that the tracks were from way back when and not the actors doing the singing.

    I’m not saying that the reviewers here are wrong but maybe they’ve lost track of why we go to see movies.

  5. I am losing count of the number of times I have watched this fabulous movie – it’s like going Down memory lane as I came from that vintage – congrats to everyone involved in making the film but more than congratulations – a huge thank you ..

  6. Carlos says:

    ” but I can suggest a list of stronger alternatives for the “Jersey Boy” movie, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling, Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Tveit or Jim Sturgess.”

    terrible. John Lloyd Young was a perfect Frankie Valli as he hit every note perfectly on songs that didn’t sound prerecorded. need to get your ears checked and stop hating on talent. critics lost their ways years ago and think its all about bashing instead of critiquing

  7. Rose DeLuca says:

    No John Lloyd Young was a perfect Frankie Valli and the other three were just perfect mix. The movie was fantastic

  8. morgo says:

    I disagree 100%! The 4 in this movie were GREAT! The singing and acting was GREAT! I LOVED IT and would not have so much if it were other actors playing these roles!

  9. earlveale says:

    Does anyone know the story behind the images, photos and the reference to Frankie Valli on the Frank Sinatra album Watertowm?

  10. Susan Diesen says:

    As far as I’m concerned, and I’m old enough to remember the Four Seasons, the singing is this movie actually surpasses them. At the end of the movie, after an movie sound track, the original Four Seasons “Sherry” is played, and though an amazing song, has a flatness to it by comparison. But that’s just me. And I really like a movie that has unknown leading actors. These guys did an amazing job! Especially when a movie is best on real life characters, I don’t want to see even Zac Efron, who I love, in the lead.

  11. Charles Collier says:

    I thought the movie was so great. Brought back many memories of all the great music performed by the Four Seasons. Clint you did a great job. The analyzing nay sayers are not your fans. I agree with you, why would you not use someone who had performed the role 1200 times. I think all the performers did a great job. I really liked the ending, to me it was reminiscent of the movie Grease.

  12. wuffe says:

    I made a point a long time ago to not listen to critics… hey wasn’t The Wizard of Oz panned.. heh .. The use of stage actors is a natural … It’s a Musical… people listen to hear singing… and the natural jersey personae… It just works… Thanks Clint.

  13. Cathy Morrissey says:

    I agree with Scott. The singing in JB is fantastic! Using the stage actors was a brilliant move! For us baby boomers who grew up with Frankie & the Four Seasons it was an incredible movie. As Bob Gaudio said in an interview, 95% of the story is real and it was really great to get to know that story. I just saw the stage play in Vegas which I LOVED, and both the film and play are great complements to each other.

  14. Karen says:

    Clint Eastwood has always had the talent to make great movies and here in Jersey Boys he’s done it again!!! Like he said the original cast has done it 1,200 times and NO ONE could have done it better!
    I would see it again and again!!! Thanks Clint I truly love it!

  15. Pam Hund says:

    I loved the movie, the singing, and the cast. I would even go so far as to say I want to see it again. I usually never agree with professional critics. This movie was awesome and the cast fabulous.

  16. I just disagree, came from the movie today and when I saw John Lloyd Young as Valli at R and R Hall of Fame I couldn’t believe how much he looked like him. I like seeing unknowns then I come with no prejudices about previous performances.
    The fire alarm went off we had to leave the theater for 34 minutes in the middle of the movie. And I still left there singing (I and others were also singing during the movie) and walking with a little kick in my 68 year old step.
    So I thought it was brilliant of Clint Eastwood (whom I don’t personally like) and I just loved the whole experience.

  17. Dawn Deines says:

    I would have to respectfully disagree. I think the casting was brilliant! John Lloyd Young did a fantastic job of evolving his character from young to older and has an amazing vocal instrument. He is gorgeous and started as Frankie on Broadway and recently played him in London. He knows Frankie Valli and has for years. Who better to play him? I normally don’t see movies over but have seen this one five times and bought the soundtrack. I like Zach Effron, but to see someone like John Lloyd who is a Tony winning singer bring this character to life….wow. What a privilege. And his chemistry with the other actors was fantastic. They were all great! Everyone I know who has seen it loves it!

  18. Like many fans of the Broadway Production of JB, I made a decision not to see the movie. The critics made some interesting points, but to me and many many fans of the amazing Jarrod Spector, who played a record of 6 years on Broadway as Frankie Valli, should have been selected for lead. Jarrod is a stunning performer, blessed with drop-dead handsomeness that compares to Tyrone Power and an even more electrifying voice. He has no shortage of fans who will follow him wherever, (as in Beauty, the musical on Carol King, for which he was nominated for this yrs Tony). Jarrod is in a special class of his own, and I’m very surprised that Mr. Eastwood did not see it.

    I do recall the golden age of 1950’s Musicals brought to the screen. I will forever be grateful for having seen Mitzi Gaynor in S. Pacific, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Julie Andrews in Sound of Music, Gordon MaCrae in Oklahoma, Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, the cast of West Side Story, who could forget John Raitt in Carousel? Yul Brynner in King & I? the list goes on. I did not live near NYC, but I never felt deprived of hearing this great music, and seeing these wonderful productions. Although Mr. Eastwood’s JB was not what many of us wanted it to be, I salute him for helping keep the music playing. I agree with many people here, that our culture is losing out by not investing in Broadways’ transition to big screen. Great Musicals can still be produced on film, thereby ensuring the music and the talent of musicians involved, will live on.

  19. Cathy Barrett says:

    The movie was wonderful and would have been ruined by putting non-singing actors in the cast. We loved it and so did all the people attending at our age level. You’re an idiot!!!

  20. Gary says:

    Just saw Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys”. A thoroughly entertaining experience. Some reviewers think that the acting (original cast members from the Broadway musical & others from the Las Vegas show) was not up to ‘LaLaWood Actor” status. BS !! We, the movie audience, go to be entertained.
    I was………and came out singing to myself.

  21. Hada says:

    Loved it!!!! ERICH BERGEN STOLE the spotlight! Facial expressions and the acting were spot on! Professional acting at it’s best!

  22. Dee Pisciella says:

    I saw the play. I’ve danced on American Bandstand. I’ve seen Frankie Valli as often as possible. Eastwood blew this opportunity. If you loved the music or you cannot see the play, then go see the movie. It has a poor screenplay, poor sets, but the guys singing did a great job. It did not depict the time. Eastwood looks like he was looking for an easy way to do the film. And it shows.

  23. Zein says:

    What about the people who can’t manage or even afford to go to Broadway to see the show? Eastwood´s movie was totally worth its while.

  24. Dpatterson says:

    The movie was terrific. Hated to see it end.
    It shouldn’t always be about the movie star, what about the truth of the story and it’s characters. When I saw this in an AMC in MA, the audience applauded. That is what should judge if a movie is successful and worth seeing not one person who gets paid for their opinions.

  25. Kris Goldie says:

    I heartily disagree with Ramin! I thought that most of the appeal of the movie lies in the fact that there aren’t well-known actors in it. I would have trouble imagining Ryan Gosling as Nick, or Jake Gyllenhaal or anyone else as Frankie!! I didn’t want to see actors I knew already and imagine them as The Four Seasons!! I loved, Loved, LOVED this movie and walked out singing, and plan to see it again. I am in love with the actor who played Frankie Valli!! BRAVO to all these guys! They were beyond great! I also saw the stage production in Las Vegas, but liked the movie even more! Kudos to Eastwood for doing it this way! Well done!!

    • Lizzie Grime says:

      Agree – movie is great. The lack of familiar faces made them even more believable. Saw an early tour with these guys which was stunning, and a later one which was not! Don’t care for Eastwood but Bravo!

  26. kerri says:

    Just saw this today with my son (he’s 19, I’m 43) & we both loved it, walked out singing. Haven’t seen the play, but I think this was an exceptional film, especially considering it’s basically a musical documentary.

  27. rita says:

    iloved it and the players were great

    • Carolyn says:

      Saw Jersey Boys today and thought it was terrific! Definitely recommend it to my family and friends. LOVED the actor who play Frankie Valli and thought he had tons of charisma!! Been a huge movie fan for 60 years and will probably see this again as the music is so wonderful and the story engrossing..

  28. cathy kelly says:

    This movies really depicted the 50’s and 60’s very well…I loved it and everyone coming out of the theater did too! Awesome movie, maybe the bad reviews are by people who never experienced the 50’s and 60’s…..They really missed out because it was a wonderful time.

  29. PETER says:

    Clint and studio really have their PR firm out to write these obvious over the top, JERSEY Reply promo’s!

    • I loved the Toronto stage version, the cast was great. I think Jeff Madden was a better Frankie than the one in the movie! Perhaps Clint should have asked Frankie Valli who he would have chosen! The movie was good but the stage production was great!

    • Kris Goldie says:

      Not true!! No one paid me to write mine! I loved this movie!!!!

    • Lee Graniero says:

      We just saw the movie Jersey Boys &came out of the theater singing!! This is an actual depiction of some of the “characters” I grew up with in upstate New York! The actors are superbe&I wish all of these hard working and talented people super stardom and success!!

  30. Jennifer Marlowe says:

    Jersey Boys was perfect! I have not seen the Broadway show, but I cannot imagine anyone else playing these roles on screen. These actors brought authenticity to the movie. Casting well know actors would have ruined it. Well done! A must see for everyone!!

  31. kathy says:

    Saw the movie last night and I was wowed by it.I think Eastwood did an amazing job.the cast was incredible.the movie flew by and left me wanting more.the first thing I said was I would see it again and I never watch a movie twice.really cannot say enough good about it.I also saw the play in New York and was thinking during the movie how much I was enjoying the movie more than the husband went with me only because his friend went and when the movie was over he said I do not know why you thought I wouldn’t like it, it was great.oh and I am under 60.

  32. Nikki says:

    I loved this movie. Maybe you had to be over 60 to really enjoy the multitude of period nuances that created this masterpiece of memorabilia…a documentary, a concert and a play cleverly threaded together using actors that portrayed realism and scenes that represented the way it was….all for the price of one! I didn’t want it to end.

  33. S Blick says:

    I think Clint accomplished what he set out to and that was to be as authentic and raw as possible while retaining the quality of the roles as played by those on stage which would not have been possible with known actors, and of course the quality and authenticity of the vocals. The difficulty he faced was to create a real life drama encompassing the musical career all in one go and I don’t think anyone could have done it better. Certainly not without spending ten times the amount of time available!

  34. says:

    Ramin, your list of alternate stars is embarrassing. Frankie’s particular brand of singing is either a natural, once a generation talent, or something people train for. It’s called head voice and requires an amazing amount of stamina, breath control and understanding of vocal placement. Yes, the casting may hurt the numbers the movie rakes in, but I refuse to believe they hurt the quality.

  35. Considering that a lot of the criticism that I had read about say Les Mis was mostly directed at the more or less so called poor casting choices, **Cough** Russell Crow **Cough**. That is what a lot of people tended to focus on the bad in that film and pretty much ignored the performances of say Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne, well at least that’s what I had seen from the people who were negatively responding to the casting. I thought Eastwood made a good choice doing exactly the opposite by casting stage actors instead of movie stars, because then he save for the name recognition argument, can side step the unnecessary casting criticisms and let the people focus on the film itself. Which I personally believe is the only stage to film adaptation that I have seen, that I thought the film version was even close to being just as good as the stage version. ASIDE: this does not there are not other stage to film adaptions that fall into that category, this just happens to one of handful of cases where I have seen both versions.

  36. Robert L. Maraffi says:

    Just saw the movie. The music and cultural references are outstanding,just as I believe Clint intentioned. Good choice of cast. An absolutely enjoyable movie for someone “of the age” and more so for espiring singing groups. Frankie Valli is a hero!!!

    • S Blick says:

      Well said Robert! Even today Frankie and his band are EXCELLENT! No one could reproduce that sound except the real McCoys so the next best thing are the stage cast who do an superb job and to have cast anyone else would be a disaster. Those who have criticised do not appear to be able to comprehend the three – the originals, the stage play and the movie, that takes expertise beyond their comprehension!

  37. I don’t know if big name actors could have saved this movie from its uneven script and overall boring direction.

    You can read my full review of Jersey Boys here:

  38. peter says:

    ThomT, you are absolutely correct. How did Ramin get his job at Variety? The actors that he mentioned, except for Joe Gordon Levitt, are ridiculous choices for New Jersey Boys! And then he bad mouths Clint, who has never made a bad movie. Clint’s movies are always quality with substance, and I thought J EDGAR was excellent all around, and Leonardo and Hammer did an excellent job. Fabulous that Clint is still directing and everything else. At his age Clint is doing better than most. BETTER THAN MOST!

  39. ThomT says:

    Although I thought it nearly impossible, Ramin has made me want to see this movie more than ever. I usually love everything he pans And as a huge fan of John Lloyd Young and the Broadway show I know I’m gonna love this movie. And with the exception of Aaron Tweit (who has considerable musical theater credits) none of Ramin’s stars would have worked for this movie.

  40. Rob says:

    “Ramin: No, it’s not!”

    I can just picture Mr Ramin stamping his foot on the floor like a child when he says that. Dearie me, he’s just another glib metropolitan sophisticate – the kind who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing – spewing bile on Mr Eastwood’s recent pictures because he doesn’t understand them.

  41. toughcritic says:

    I don’t care much about who played who, they should have used the original Four Seasons recordings instead of the Broadway cast singers. It was the same as using Kevin Spacey’s voice instead of Bobby Darin’s recordings. Bad choices.

  42. Doug Bass says:

    This is ridiculous, I’m glad they kept the original cast. It gives unknown actors a shot at something larger and to propel their career even further. They worked hard to fine tune and secure these roles only to usually have them taken away by a less talented version of themselves like Russell Crowe or whatever “name” Hollywood wants to throw in the film. Not everyone wants to see Zac Efron play one of these guys. The film and story should speak for itself and if they were damn good enough to originate the roles on Broadway then they deserve a shot at the film version.

  43. peter says:

    Ramin, are you kidding me? Chris Evans, Daniel Radcliffe, Jake G., Eddie Redmayne, Ryan Gosling?? Of course, they’re all very Jersey! Perfect casting.

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