Real 'Jersey Boys' to embark on national tour
Members of the Four Seasons band, front from left: Russ Velasquez, Gary Polci, Larry Gates and rear from left Lee Shapiro, Don Ciccone and Jimmy Ryan pose for The Associated Press, Sunday, May 13, 2012 in Fair Lawn, N.J. Former members of the Four Seasons, minus lead singer Frankie Valli, have teamed up with some A-list studio musicians and have been rehearsing in Gates' basement in preparation for a nationwide tour. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
FAIR LAWN, N.J. (AP) — In a basement in a quiet suburb 10 miles west of Manhattan, the characters of a bygone era in pop music are brought to life in mellifluous four-part harmony.
Sherry is there, deciding whether or not to come out tonight. So are Dawn, the girl from the nice part of town, and Marianne, trying to understand her man.
This is hardly your average baby boomer garage band, though: Made up of former members of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, this weekend they officially launch a nationwide reunion tour as "The Hit Men" that will take them through next May.
The venues are more modest than the sold-out arenas they played to across the globe in the '70s, but don't tell that to drummer Gerry Polci, keyboardist Lee Shapiro and guitarist Don Ciccone — they're having way too much fun.
"Guys at our age say, 'Let's go to a golf course, let's go and fish,'" Shapiro said. "We get paid to do this, to go out and have our reunion. It's great."
Spurred by the runaway success of "Jersey Boys," the Tony Award-winning 2005 Broadway musical based on the Four Seasons' career, Polci — the lead singer on "December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)," the group's last No. 1 hit — and the others, all in their late 50s and early 60s, decided to re-form, along with an A-list group of studio musicians, and give touring one more shot.
Musicians Larry Gates, right, and Gerry Polci talk about Polci's new guitar inside Gates' studio, Sunday, May 13, 2012 in Fair Lawn, N.J. The two are part of the Four Seasons band, which is going on tour. Material original to the band has been playing to sold-out crowds on Broadway for the last several years in "Jersey Boys." (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Over bagels and coffee recently at the house of bassist Larry Gates, which doubles as the band's clubhouse and music studio, the members marveled at the response they've received at some of the dates they've played as a test run.
The audience tends to skew toward retirement age, but the love handles and Lipitor apparently haven't killed anybody's enthusiasm.
"People are much less inhibited now," Shapiro said. "It's almost like, 'This is it; if we're not going to have fun now, what are we waiting for?'"
"We had a bra thrown on stage," guitarist James Ryan recalled.
"Granted, it was 97EEE," Shapiro chimed in to uproarious laughter. "I think it was some guy's."
Ryan, Gates and Russ Velazquez, a singer and player of multiple instruments, are the hired guns brought in to fill out the group, and they draw from a deep well of musical experience.
Ryan and Ciccone, high school buddies from New Jersey, had pop hits in the '60s as The Critters with "Mr. Dieingly Sad" and the John Sebastian-penned "Younger Girl." Ryan went on to back Carly Simon, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens and others, and carved out a career as a composer for film and TV.