NEW YORK (AP) – Imagine the Beatles hailed from another port city, on the other side of the Atlantic – like Newark, N.J.

They would be Italian, capisce? Forget Brian Epstein and the Cavern Club; think mob capo in a bowling alley lounge. The quartet would start out singing beneath a streetlight, and end up standing in the spotlight.

Their name? The Four Seasons.

The Garden State quartet, fronted by Frankie Valli and his soaring falsetto, nearly matched the Beatles hit for hit during the mid-1960s. “Jersey Boys,” opening Nov. 6 at the August Wilson Theatre, tells their story, giving each member of the band a chance to recount his take on the band’s rise and fall.

It’s a tale unknown to many.

“We never knew their story because they were from Jersey, and because they were blue-collar high-school dropouts – Italian kids with no glamour quotient at all,” explained Rick Elice, co-writer of the Broadway musical.

“They were not taken seriously the way the Beatles were, or the Beach Boys, or the Stones – bands who were written about.”

Elice collaborated on the show with Academy Award winner Marshall Brickman, who shared a best screenplay Oscar with Woody Allen for “Annie Hall.” It was the first attempt at musical theater for both, and they started with some trepidation.

The pair had agreed to work together on an unspecified project. When Elice was approached about a possible Four Seasons show, he invited Brickman aboard, although they still had no idea where it would lead.

“It’s like that dinner date that you make for six months in advance,” Brickman said. “You think it will never happen. And then it’s here.”

In this case, it was dinner for four: the two writers, along with Valli and fellow band mate Bob Gaudio. The pair were hoping to do something similar to “Mamma Mia!” – the ABBA musical – using the Four Seasons catalog; Gaudio was the band’s chief songwriter.

Brickman and Elice weren’t interested in that proposal. But over dinner, Valli and Gaudio began sharing stories about growing up in New Jersey, about the start of the band, about the mobsters from their past.

“The more they got into this, the more it seemed they had kind of a Shakespearean history,” Elice recounted. “By that, I mean there’s love and hate, and life and death, and revenge, betrayal and greed and anger.”

And music. The Four Seasons scored 13 top 10 hits between 1962-67, including “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Two dozen of their songs cracked the Top 40, back when the Top 40 really mattered.

The show starts with the band’s nascent days in Essex County, where young Francis Castellucio (soon to be Frankie Valli) hooked up with Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi — Jersey guys all, stars who shone between the eras of local icons Sinatra and Springsteen.

They had a sound all their own. Valli’s voice wafted above the three-part harmonies of his band mates, landing the Four Seasons a coveted spot on “American Bandstand” as their music blared from car radios coast to coast.

They also knew some people who knew some people, and various members were indicted long before they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. It’s no surprise that Valli plays a believable Mafiosi on “The Sopranos.”

“They may be Italians,” said director Des McAnuff, “but it’s Greek theater.”

In a year when so-called “jukebox musicals” such as “All Shook Up,” “Lennon” and “Good Vibrations” lost millions of dollars, “Jersey Boys” aimed to avoid that milieu. “Jersey Boys” is a story with songs, rather than vice versa.

“We didn’t deal with the songs at all,” Elice said. “We wrote a play. And at certain points in the play, because it’s about guys who made music, the music comes in almost like a character would.”

Once a scene was written, the creative team looked through the catalog, Brickman said. “We looked and said, “This one might be right. This is sort of what we need.’ We had to leave out, obviously, about the same amount of songs we had in.”

Valli and Gaudio, nervous initially about seeing their lives on stage, are now getting ready for the show’s Broadway debut after a successful run last season at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. Preview performances already drew some big names; Jersey boy Joe Piscopo, accompanied by pal Chazz Palminteri, were in the audience that rose for a standing ovation at an early October show.

Brickman already has a surefire recipe for the show’s continued success.

“My plan is to have everyone in the state of New Jersey see the show,” he deadpanned. “And if that happens, then we will run through September of 2020 in this theater.”


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