The Jersey Boys on the ties that bind them

Micah Levin Isla - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - At the dawn of the ’60s — when rock ’n roll took a revolutionary turn to merge with pop and psychedelic rock — long before the Beatles introduced “Jude” and ignited their own “Revolution” in 1968, Franki Valli & The Four Seasons had already doo-woped their way into the North American charts. With their massive hits like Sherry, what millennials know today as Madcon’s Beggin’ and the solo Can’t Take My Eyes Off You that spawned 200 revivals over the decades, these “Vocal Group Hall Of Fame” artists were definitely on a league of their own.

The quartet from New Jersey — Franki Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi — went down as one of the most iconic bands in American pop-rock history. And more than the music that defied trends and time, the rags-to-rockstardom tale of the brotherhood has become a story that never gets old: A union formed by music, forged by trials, and glued by passion. The group’s life behind the scenes — a rollercoaster of ups and downs laced with salacious controversies, jealousy, secrets and bouts with loan sharks — found its way to Broadway in 2005 as the biographical hit Jersey Boys.

The Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award-winning production based on the band’s discography (and relationships that were equal parts tumultuous and harmonious) is finally coming to Manila on Sept. 23 for a limited 15-show run at Meralco Theater in Pasig City.

Produced by Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG), The musical’s local staging brings together four of the country’s formidable stage actors Nyoy Volante, Christian Bautista, Markki Stroem, and Nino Alejandro to take on the famous roles.

The cast visited The STAR to give a preview of what’s to come, albeit re-imagined versions of some featured songs so as not to spoil anything. Christian gave Can’t Take My Eyes Off You his usual balladeer charm, while Nyoy sampled My Eyes Adored You in his signature acoustic flair.

And because, admit it, we all want to peek into the seemingly outrageous lives of rock stars (oh, to be a fly on a tour bus wall!), the #JerseyBoysFromManila allowed us a glimpse into their ongoing transformation.

The STAR: What similarities do you share with your character?

Markki: My character Tommy DeVito is sort of the kontrabida, and there are so many words to describe him that are not nice to say in an interview, but nevertheless he’s a very driven individual. Despite his seemingly vile persona, he’s the one who kept everyone’s spirits up, especially when nothing was happening. I am someone who likes to push people to do better, to keep working and driving. I was recently in a group (on the TV show I Love OPM) and I had to constantly push all of us to do better.

Christian: I’ll be Bob Gaudio, the group’s songwriter, who is sort of a geek sometimes and someone who knows his craft very well. He really believes in people and doesn’t give up on them easily. What I like about him most is that he gets inspiration from everywhere just to write the next best song.

Nyoy: I’m playing Franki Valli and, well, pareho kaming maliit. In fact, people have jokingly told me before that I’m fit to play Franki because we’re both small guys. As a singer, I’m known for my falsettos, and Franki Valli is so famous for that. And also, we both had been through so many struggles, but in the end our careers turned out just fine.

Nino: Nick Massi is the most musical in the group, he plays all the instruments and he’s the arranger. In my own career, I do arrange my songs, I write, and I play a few instruments. The boys waited so long to catch a big break, I can very much relate to that for I have been with so many bands before.

What part of the play has stuck with you the longest?

Christian: Filipinos love music, it’s that simple. They love ‘love songs’ and they’re going to get a lot of it. Nyoy: I think they’re going be attracted to the fact that this is a true story, totoong mga tao sila. Markki: It talks about the band’s struggles. It will make viewers realize that hard work pays off. Nino: This is going to open a lot of ears from the younger crowd, and make the ‘young once’ excited.

Markki: I saw the Vegas production and I really liked how Tommy DeVito was portrayed; I liked how cocky he was and how he captured that Jersey Italian mafia spunk — it’s how I want to portray the role myself.

Christian: The most influential scene for me was when Franki Valli sang Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and how my character Bob fought for the song. During that time, the popularity was waning, yet he still believed that the song would really be another hit — and indeed it was.

Nyoy: The scene that really struck me was when the boys had a first hit, which was Sherry. That was their break after so many trials. It was the song that propelled them to stardom.

Nino: Mine was when Nick suddenly snapped; he was the quiet one. He endured everything in silence — all the controversies and the issues within the group. At some point, he just erupted like a volcano and eventually left.

How are you tackling the role?

Markki: I’m not going to completely copy it but I like how Tommy DeVito in Vegas portrayed it; it was a great version.

Christian: I’m singing the songs just like how Franki believed in every song he performed — as if each new song will become a No. 1  record.

Nyoy: I really can’t do a new version of Franki Valli since he’s very much a real person, but I will try to do a little bit of me as far as the nuances are concerned. I think I’m also just relying so much on the rehearsals, talagang naniniwala ako with hard work and being with these guys every day, listening to the songs, trying out how to do them while watching the play and the movie version (directed by Clint Eastwood in 2014), soon enough the character will go into my system.

Nino: It’s going to be a fun challenge because Nick’s personality is quite the opposite of mine. Nick is tahimik lang and more of a follower. In real life, I’m a bit of a control freak, so I have to bring out that more subdued side of me — like what Ringo was to the Beatles.

Why do you think Jersey Boys will strike a chord with the Filipino audience?

Markki: This play talks about the band’s struggles before becoming a worldwide sensation, and in any industry I believe that everyone really starts from the bottom. It will make the Filipino viewer realize that indeed, hard work pays off. If you keep dreaming and driving, you’ll get that hit song.

Christian: Filipinos love music, it’s that simple. Filipinos love “love songs” and they’re going to get a lot of it. And this musical will make them say, “Oh, I didn’t know this song came from this era.”

Nyoy: I think they’re going be attracted to the fact that this is a true story, totoong mga tao sila, the viewers can even research on them. I think the generation of today is very attracted to facts.

Nino: This is going to open a lot of ears from the younger crowd, but at the same time, get the “young once” really excited, especially my father-in-law.

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