Mob Music: Mafia Ties Backbone of The Four Seasons’ Story
“… In addition to The Four Seasons’ rise to fame, the musical also covers such largely unknown aspects of their lives as Devito and Massi’s time served in prison during the 1950s … the group’s ties to New Jersey Mafia boss Gyp DeCarlo; and the drug overdose death of Valli’s daughter, Francine. …”
Brotherhood, Mafia ties backbone of The Four Seasons’ story
By ANDREW S. HUGHES (Excerpt)
South Bend Tribune, November 26, 2013
During rehearsals for “Jersey Boys,” the cast visited the neighborhoods where Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons grew up. Jason Kappus says it helped the cast understand The Four Seasons’ lives and their music as they prepared for the national tour that Broadway Theatre League presents beginning Tuesday at the Morris Performing Arts Center in South Bend with Kappus playing Bob Gaudio.
“As well as the group being a product of the members, the members are a product of their neighborhood and background,” he says by telephone from North Charleston, S.C. “If they had been brought up in a middle-class suburb, they might have had the same talent but not the same drive to get out, and they wouldn’t have been able to write what they wrote about.”
Valli and Nick Massi were both born and raised in Newark and Tommy DeVito grew up in adjacent Belleville, all of them on the lower end of the economic ladder. …
With music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, “Jersey Boys” opened on Broadway in 2005 and won four Tony Awards in 2006, including for Best Musical. …
In addition to The Four Seasons’ rise to fame, the musical also covers such largely unknown aspects of their lives as Devito and Massi’s time served in prison during the 1950s; DeVito’s attempt to seduce Valli’s girlfriend, Lorraine; the group’s ties to New Jersey Mafia boss Gyp DeCarlo; and the drug overdose death of Valli’s daughter, Francine. …
“Sure, women go wild and love the dancing and singing,” Cosgrove says. “But we like to joke that this is a show that guys drag their wives to. You have ties to the Mafia, so it’s like ‘The Sopranos’; you have four cool guys who are slick; and they have heart. They’re willing to show their true selves, and I think that’s why men connect to it so well.”
Mob music: How the creators of the Jersey Boys got a call from the Mafia
By Rhoda Koenig (Excerpt)
The Independent, March 6, 2006
While other jukebox musicals have taken the route of hagiography (Buddy) or fantasy (Mamma Mia), Jersey Boys is a little bit different. Instead of using The Four Seasons’ catalogue to illustrate the triumph of talent and persistence, or a fictional romantic romp, Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman fashioned what The New York Times called “a no-holds-barred band biography”. Not only is it frank about the quarrels, betrayals, and sexual rivalries of the early Sixties doo-wop group, it also shows, for the first time, that Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio, and Frankie Valli (né Castelluccio) had their brushes with the Mafia.
The boys whose soaring harmonies propelled “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and dozens of other songs up the charts were not unusual in this respect among the citizens of New Jersey, the most notoriously corrupt of the 50 states. Organised crime may permeate Jersey life at every level – DeVito recalled that he would come across three or four craps games on the way to church, and there would sometimes be gambling in the church basement too – but the wealth does not trickle down to the mainly working-class populace. So, as DeVito tells us at the outset of Jersey Boys, “If you’re from my neighbourhood, you’ve got three ways out – you could join the army, you could get mobbed up, or you could become a star.” But you could not become a star in New Jersey nightclubs without the cooperation of the Mafia, which ran not only the clubs, but the food, drink, and linen companies that supplied them. …
When Valli is shaken down by two hoodlums, he appeals to DeVito, who tells us, “You wanted something done – or undone – in New Jersey, Gyp DeCarlo was the man.”
Specifically, Angelo “Gyp” DeCarlo was the man who ran the DeCavalcante family’s loan-sharking and illegal gambling operations in New Jersey. He died in 1973, but left associates who were keen to defend his reputation. When Elice and Brickman were trying out the show in a California theatre, they got a message that someone wanted to speak to them on the telephone in the car park. A man who did not give his name said that he had heard DeCarlo appeared in the show, and wished to ensure that he was portrayed in a favourable and respectful manner. Marshall Brickman says there was only one answer: “Of course!”
DeCarlo is indeed portrayed in a respectful and favourable manner – as a wise, kindly counsellor who helps the band with their problems. One of these is DeVito’s inability to repay the extortionate interest, or “vig” (short for “vigorish”, from the Yiddish for “profit”), on his debt to the moneylender Norm the Bag, thereby risking the loss of important anatomical features. Gyp makes sure he doesn’t get hurt – behaviour that was highly uncharacteristic for the real DeCarlo, a multiple murderer.
One debtor who got behind on the vig was badly beaten, then suddenly died of a stomach upset that turned out to have been caused by considerable quantities of arsenic. While the Four Seasons were recording their hits, DeCarlo was unwittingly doing some singing of his own – to the FBI, which bugged his headquarters for several years in the early Sixties. He was heard describing how he hit one victim with a gun butt and crowbar before setting fire to him, and how, feeling more sympathetic to another, he told him to stop struggling so he could take a clean, painless hit through the heart.
Convicted of extortion and conspiracy to commit murder, DeCarlo haughtily uttered the classic line: “It was a frame-up.” But if that made listeners howl, it was DeCarlo who had the last laugh. Less than two years into a 12-year sentence, he was pardoned by President Nixon after Sinatra made a large contribution to Nixon’s re-election campaign. While he was in the Atlanta penitentiary, The Four Seasons flew down to play a concert for the prisoners.
Why not put this in the show? “Because that’s not what the show is about, just like it’s not about the space programme or the opening of the West,” says Brickman. “It’s not The Sopranos set to music. We thought it would be counterproductive to introduce that level of reality.” Elice concurs, saying that the phone call did not change anything. “Whatever else he [DeCarlo] did, he was a good guy to The Four Seasons.”
DeVito’s troubles did not end when his loan was sorted out, or even after he was removed from the group and, at DeCarlo’s mandatory “suggestion”, from New Jersey. “Even when Tommy wasn’t hurting for money,” says Brickman, “he would do a little counterfeiting, a bit with bearer bonds. It was a habit.” He has lived for some time in Las Vegas, working for another graduate of the old neighbourhood, Joe Pesci.
The scene in Jersey Boys that seems too much of a cliché to be true is, say the writers, one of those things that’s a cliché because it’s true. The writers have stuck to the facts in portraying DeCarlo’s sentimental side, whatever its lack of objective correlative: he dissolves in tears when Valli sings, at his request, “My Mother’s Eyes” (“One bright and guiding light/ That taught me wrong from right”). The song fits the story because Valli had, early in his career, recorded it, but, in fact, DeCarlo’s favourite song was more subtly ironic. According to the singer Jimmy Roselli, DeCarlo, while driving, would croon “I Lost All My Love for You“, which includes the lines: “Revenge may be sweet after all I’ve been through/ But why should I hurt you? What good would it do?” If anyone is thinking about a musical version of The Sopranos, that could be a good place to begin.