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The Strip Sense: Working his way back to you

Frankie Valli gets some Vegas vindication at the premiere of Jersey Boys

Steve Friess

It is hard to believe now, especially after the weekend that just was, that only a few years ago Frankie Valli walked out during a three-week contract at the Luxor and was declared by at least one entertainment writer to have essentially ended his association with Las Vegas once and for all.

Hard, that is, because on Saturday the town stood up and cheered as the pipsqueak Italian from New Jersey with the priceless falsetto blew out candles at one of the city’s most elaborate and expensive birthday parties in recent memory.

Move over, Paris and Nicole. The nightclubs, for whatever bizarre reason, may pay you to stand and wave on the anniversaries of your unfortunate arrivals, but would anyone stage a multimillion-dollar Broadway musical based on your life story and then have a major resort-casino time the premiere of it on the Las Vegas Strip just to honor you?

For Valli, there was no question that the moment was immensely gratifying and somewhat unique for Las Vegas. Sinatra, Rickles and Bennett never fell out of favor in such a way as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons seemed to and, thus, never had quite this sort of a spectacular comeback as is seen with the triumphant debut of Jersey Boys at the Palazzo.

Except don’t call it that. Valli’s not having any of this “comeback” nonsense. “Every once in a while when we had a resurgence, in the interviews people would ask, ‘How does it feel to be making a comeback?’ and I would say, ‘I had no idea we left!’” Valli said. “In all the ups and downs, there was never a shortage of work. There’s all the work I wanted.”

Perhaps, but the wonderful Jersey Boys not only returns The Four Seasons to the forefront of the pop-culture scene but also restores our faith in the future of musical theater in Las Vegas. If last week’s column pointed out how Steve Wynn must be driving convention-travel innovator Sheldon Adelson bananas by planning a huge new expo center, this week it must be noted that Wynn must be utterly depressed that his vision for great Broadway theater on the Strip has been realized not by his now-failed picks Avenue Q and Spamalot but by arch-nemesis Adelson’s knockout versions of Phantom and Jersey Boys.

It gets even better for Valli and The Four Seasons, though. For this particular weekend, the quartet that never quite received its proper due in the media trumped the legendary bunch from Liverpool that did grab all the headlines way back when.

The rivalry between The Four Seasons and The Beatles was as intense as anything between Britney and Christina (or Steve and Sheldon, for that matter).

Yet this past weekend, in honor of Valli and his posse, The Beatles took the back seat. The nation’s real Fab Four du jour, the finalists on this season’s American Idol, flew in to see the Beatles-scored Cirque du Soleil show Love at the Mirage across the street from the Palazzo. But the red carpet—those contrived events arranged for media access—took place at the odd early hour of 4:30 p.m. even though Love didn’t start until 7:30 p.m. Why? Undoubtedly because by 6 p.m., any Vegas entertainment reporter worth their salt would be at the Palazzo for the star parade preceding the Jersey Boys premiere.

I asked Valli about facing off with The Beatles again, this time in Vegas, and he produced this zinger: “Except one is a story and one is a jukebox musical.” In other words, Jersey Boys is real theater; that Beatles thing is a rehash. I disagree, but it also cut to the heart of what Valli thinks in general about modern Las Vegas. During our chat, he bemoaned several different ways the loss of the old Vegas but, unlike the wasn’t-the-mob-great line that bores me to tears, he gave an actual, legitimate complaint.

Valli is nostalgic for the days of small theaters and cabaret, noting that the quality of the entertainment and the show experience itself was better when it was just 300 folks being serenaded and when tickets were inexpensive. It’s just not the same when Bette or Cher sing to 4,000 people, and that’s true. But smaller venues and shorter contracts also meant more variety.

“It was nice when you went to Vegas and Sinatra was there for two weeks and Dean Martin was someplace else for two weeks and Sammy was in another place for two weeks,” Valli said. “And you could go see all these people, and it was a personal experience.”

The changing business model is what led to the aforementioned tiff with the Luxor in 2005. Valli, finally breaking his silence on what happened then, said he walked away from the gig because he had a four-wall deal—code for renting the room and taking sole responsibility for filling it—and could only get dates on weekdays.

“I said, ‘What’s the sense of coming down there and working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and somebody else comes in Friday, Saturday and Sunday when all the people are in town?’” he recalled. “It was a terrible mistake to four-wall. You don’t get the help from the hotel for advertising or anything. Even if you’re selling out, there’s no way to make money. We have to pay for all the advertising and the stagehands and the musicians and the sound and everything else.”

Something tells me this isn’t a problem he’ll be having ever again. Jersey Boys has immortalized The Four Seasons and somehow turned their music into a contemporary sound yet again. And Valli is clearly delighted after all those years of naysayers and underestimation.

“If I had a dime for every time I was turned down …” he started to say. But he didn’t finish, because the usual conclusion to that is “… I’d be a very wealthy man.” And that he sure is. And somehow, against all Vegas odds, he’s hot again.

Head to ReadVegas.com to read Steve Friess’ daily blog, Vegas Happens Here, or catch his weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. He can be reached at SteveFriess@aol.com

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