The music of the Four Seasons was huge in the Sixties and Seventies but at the time very little was known about them as individuals.
The musical Jersey Boys, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, suggests why that might be. In those early days their background of spells in jail, hanging out with mobsters and family strife were not good for publicity.
But they make a good storyline for a piece of theatre as Michael Watson, who plays Frankie Valli in the new touring production of Jersey Boys, attests.
“The show is about their rise up to the top and when they got there how it affected everything. These guys are real people at the end of the day with real problems. And as we see from many celebrity stories money and fame aren’t the answer to everyone’s problems. It often just brings more problems.
“On the outside these guys are having the life of Reilly but they had these issues which they survived, but it didn’t stop there and there’s no happy every after. Then they went through some more stuff as well.”
It was their distinctive harmony sound that established the Four Seasons and especially the high-pitched almost falsetto voice of Frankie Valli.
Once you see the show you realise how much they influenced modern music
How hard was it for Michael Watson to adjust his voice? “It’s something I knew I had in my arsenal and when I auditioned – and you had to choose a song that showed off these qualities – I didn’t know whether I had the quality to do it six days a week.
“I was understudy on the show for a year before I took over. In that time I worked really hard on it with a voice coach and by the time the guy who had the role (Ryan Molloy) was ready to step aside I was ready. It was a great journey.”
He ended up being in Jersey Boys at the Piccadilly Theatre in London for three years. In fact all of the Four Seasons in this production have been in the show before.
“People find it an amazing accomplishment, the voice, but if you take care of your voice and you warm it up and cool it down you can use it in many different ways, you know. This is one way I can make my voice go and I can sing other things at the same time. If I had to sing a different song tonight, I could.”
But it’s as much about the character as the voice. “The singing is great but the complex character is even more interesting.”
Michael Watson admits he only knew a little bit about Frankie Valli before starting on the show. “I knew he had an iconic voice but I never knew he was the spearhead of a revolution in music. Once you see the show you realise not only how amazing their catalogue of songs is, but how much they influenced modern music and moved music on from there, really.”
The group’s keyboard player, Bob Gaudio, was mostly responsible. In addition to Four Seasons favourites such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What A Night) and Bye-Bye Baby, Gaudio songs became hits for other artists such as Silence is Golden by The Tremeloes, The Proud One (The Osmonds) and The Sun Ain’t Going to Shine Any More (Walker Brothers).
And yet, Watson points out: “Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio made more money from Jersey Boys than they ever did from their recording careers.”
The man from Clacton on Sea in Essex has loved performing from an early age. “ I wanted to be in a boy band and then I went into musical theatre and then I wanted to be an actor.
“I have managed to do all of that. Tonight I am in a boy band.”
n Jersey Boys opens at the Sheffield Lyceum next Monday, June 19, and runs to Saturday, June 30.