Wednesday, April 2, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Behind the music
I remember the interview with Frankie Valli like it was yesterday.
He talked about his upcoming show at the Orleans, part of a national tour. We talked about the possibility of his retiring if his tour didn’t do as well as he hoped.
“If it gets to be too hectic and I’m not enjoying it ... I don’t know, I may just pull the plug,” he said. “I am playing around with other things. I’m recording a lot of standards, I have a studio here in my house. I’m doing a lot of music that I always wanted to do.
“Also, we sold the rights to the Four Seasons’ story for a Broadway show. That’s in the works.”
That interview with Valli ran in the Sun on April 5, 2002.
That show became “Jersey Boys,” which debuts at the Palazzo on Friday — almost exactly six years later.
-- Jerry Fink
If you go
What: “Jersey Boys”
When: 7 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays; 7 and 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays; dark Wednesdays
Where: The Palazzo
Tickets: $65 to $135; 414-9000 or venetiantickets.com
'Jersey Boys' file
Las Vegas cast: Rick Faugno as Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Jeremy Kushnier as Tommy DeVito and Jeff Leibow as Nick Massi
Production notes: Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music by Bob Gaudio (one of the original Four Seasons), lyrics by Bob Crewe, direction by Des McAnuff, orchestrations by Steve Orich, music direction and vocal arrangements by Ron Melrose
Premiere: Oct. 5, 2004, at La Jolla Playhouse
Broadway: Opened Nov. 6, 2005. Won four Tony Awards, including best musical, in 2006. Still running
Other productions: London, Chicago and U.S. touring company. Australian production scheduled to open next year.
The Four Seasons rode such hits as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll” to the top in the ’60s.
But fame and fortune weren’t enough to keep Tommy DeVito from walking away from the musical dynasty he founded.
“I left because I had had enough,” says the 80-year-old DeVito, who moved to Las Vegas in 1970. “I had it up to here with the road and the group.”
The Four Seasons’ story was turned into a hit Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys,” which opens at the Palazzo on Friday.
The musical tells the rags-to-riches story of four kids from New Jersey — DeVito; Frankie Valli, the best-known member of the group because of his falsetto vocals; Bob Gaudio, who wrote the group’s biggest hits; and Nick Massi. It also includes a portrayal of Joe Pesci, the friend who introduced DeVito to Gaudio and helped launch the group’s rise to success.
Valli continues to tour with a version of the Four Seasons. Gaudio no longer tours, but he and Valli are business partners. Massi, who left the group in 1965, died of cancer in 2000.
When DeVito quit in 1970, he left the millions he had earned with an ex-wife and two children. He landed in Vegas with $100,000 and went through it in a year.
“I blew everything partying,” he says. “Then I went to work as a dealer at the Sahara.”
After three years dealing cards, he began producing records and managing artists. He’s also on salary as a personal assistant to Pesci. DeVito and his wife, Edda, live in a modest home in the southeastern part of the valley.
DeVito grew up in Belleville, N.J., the youngest of nine children of Italian immigrants. During the Depression his family lived with an uncle in a cold-water flat in a tough neighborhood. “You did anything to survive,” DeVito says. “You’d steal milk off of porches.”
At 8, he taught himself to play his brother’s guitar by listening to country music on the radio. “I was so small I couldn’t hold the guitar in my lap so I put it on the floor on its side and leaned over and played it that way,” he says.
By the time he was 12, he was playing for tips in neighborhood taverns. “My parents were elated that we were bringing home eight bucks a night or so. That’s basically how I got started in music.”
He quit school after the eighth grade. (Belleville High made him an honorary graduate last year.) By 16 he had his own R&B band and was making $20 or $25 a night.
“Jersey Boys” implies he had mob connections, but DeVito says that’s stretching the truth.
“Some of my family were friends with some of their family,” he says. “I was never part of the mob. They might have asked me to play a private party or something, but they paid me for it. Mostly they asked me to do benefits. That was the extent of the connection, but naturally they put it in the play to show I got into trouble.”
In the early ’50s DeVito had a group called the Variety Trio with his twin brother, Nick, and Hank Majewski. Occasionally they invited a young vocalist by the name of Frank Castelluccio to sing a couple of songs in his high-pitched voice. Castelluccio eventually became Frankie Valli.
“People loved to hear him sing,” DeVito says. “I told him he had to learn some words to some other songs ’cause he kept singing the same ones over and over. He wasn’t developed yet. He was still singing through his nose.”
Valli joined the group and it became the Four Lovers. They had a minor hit with “Apple of My Eye” in 1956.
“Eventually we got on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ a couple of times and then we came out here to Reno to play at Harold’s Club,” DeVito says. They had an offer to open for Tony Bennett in Washington state but DeVito’s brother and Majewski balked at the long drive. “We never had a break in our lives like this and they didn’t want to drive 800 miles,” DeVito says.
So he fired them, hired Nick Massi and tried a number of other musicians before Pesci introduced him to Gaudio, who had co-written the 1958 hit “(Who Wears) Short Shorts.”
After Gaudio came onboard, the Four Lovers became the Four Seasons. He wrote the group’s first big hit, “Sherry,” which took advantage of Valli’s unique voice.
“It was crazy,” DeVito says of the 1962 smash. “We went from making $1,000 a week to $1,000 a day. It was a monster. I think it changed everybody a little bit. Not personality wise. I was the same guy whether I had $40 or $40 million. You know, I went up and down three times in my life.”
There was occasional dissension in the group, DeVito says. Valli wanted to make more money because he was the best-known. Massi left the group because he wanted to be the front man.
Finally DeVito decided he’d had enough. “I didn’t care about playing and hearing the applause again.” He came to Las Vegas, where several of his siblings lived. One brother, Michael, a retired cabdriver, still lives here.
But DeVito says he’s pleased with the success of “Jersey Boys.” He saw the play during its test run in La Jolla, Calif., and thought it had potential. “But I didn’t think it was going to be this big.”
The play has prompted interviews and brought him more money. (Valli and Gaudio cut him in for 25 percent.)
“But I was doing fine without ‘Jersey Boys,’ ” he says. “I’m going to stay right where I am.
“Whether I eat steaks or Corn Flakes, it doesn’t bother me. If I had to clean houses, it wouldn’t bother me. I’ve always had my feet on the ground.”