Even if you can’t name the recording artists, you know the songs: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Rag Doll,” “Let’s Hang On,” and “Working My Way Back To You.”
And you know that falsetto.
Those trademark high notes belong to Francesco Stephen Castelluccio — born 1934 in Newark, New Jersey, and better known by his stage name, Franki Valli.
Jersey Boys, the long-running Broadway musical — winner of four 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Musical — takes a jukebox full of 1960s and 1970s hits by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (plus a few Valli solo joints, such as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “My Eyes Adored You”), and uses them not to weave a dizzying narrative fantasia à la Mamma Mia!, but instead to conduct a Behind The Music-style dive into the backgrounds of The Four Seasons themselves, just a bunch of regular Joes from Jersey whose unique sound catapulted them to radio superstardom.
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons had a squeaky-clean image. The reality was a little different: The group took its name from a bowling alley, one member was deeply in debt to a loan shark, and the others sought help from a mob boss to pay off those debts. Marshall Brickman, who co-wrote the book for the musical has said, “It’s a classic American story. It’s rags to riches, and back to rags.”
In the production of Jersey Boys that opened at the Broward Center this week, Jonny Wexler stars as Frankie Valli. Wexler’s worked his way up: He spent three years playing Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) in the show before nabbing the lead role last year. And — brace yourself! — Wexler’s not even from Jersey. He was born in Ontario (snowbird readers might recognize him as “Moe Doodle” from The Doodlebops on Canada’s Disney Channel). We sat down with the young star for this exclusive chat.
Were you always a performer, even as a child?
Yes, I started performing at a very young age. When I was 7, I was in Oliver!
What was your first paid gig?
I got paid for that very first show.
When did you know singing and performing would be your career?
I think it’s kind of like anything else: You just keep progressing to the next level and, before you know it, it’s what you do.
How did you get cast in Jersey Boys?
Five or six years ago, I was down in La Jolla [California] doing a couple projects with some of the people who created Jersey Boys. They needed someone, I fit the bill, and everything worked out.
Besides Frankie Valli, what has been your favorite role?
Every project brings with it a unique set of challenges — and new experiences. Each one calls upon a different skill set, and I enjoy the opportunity to do new things and push myself.
What’s your dream role?
This show lines up amazingly with my skill set, with who I am and the things I believe in [in theater]. So, anything that lines up with that! That lets me explore my talent and my personality and the world.
What should our readers expect from the touring company of Jersey Boys?
The show’s been around for over a decade for good reason. It shines as a pinnacle of modern theater. I think it really changes the way people think about modern musicals. There aren’t very many shows that have 30 hit songs in them! The way the songs are written into the story is amazing. And that story is the American Dream.
This show is great for people who have heard of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and it’s great for people who haven’t. The music has permeated our society.
Jersey Boys runs through May 20 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts (201 SW Fifth Ave, Ft. Lauderdale). For info and tix (from $41): browardcenter.org or 954-462-0222. For more on Jonny, visit jonnywexler.com or follow him on Twitter @jonnywexler.