Before I’d seen “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” performed in Jersey Boys, it was merely a song played at my middle school dance. (Disclosure: I was not in middle school in 1975, when it was released, thus making its placement a bit out of time. But I digress.) Now and then, it was simply a catchy, lightweight artifact of a time long gone, or perhaps a time that only existed in Bob Gaudio’s notebook.
But since I happened to get a funny feeling when Marisa the Three-Sport Athlete walked across the room, there may have been a little extra nostalgia attached to “Oh, What a Night.” Saying nothing of the fact that, as I recall, it ended much too soon, or as she recalls, it never even started in the first place. Agree to disagree.
The point is, after Jersey Boys, “Oh, What a Night” ceased to mean anything relating to seventh grade, school dances or Marisa the Three-Sport Athlete. This is the visual power of theater. Now, every time I hear the song I think about Gaudio descending into the depths of the stage to lose his virginity, and Tommy DeVito singing the “as I recall it ended much too soon” line, now meaning something very different, to much laughter from the audience.
Jersey Boys is full of these transformative musical moments, where, like MTV first did 30 years ago, a song with no previous visual attachment now becomes inextricably linked to images that probably weren’t even thought about when the song was first conceived.
One has to imagine that a song like “Dawn (Go Away),” which closes Act One, carried very little significance until it was used in one of my favorite visuals in the show: all Four Seasons playing a breakthrough live gig facing a fake audience with their backs turned to the actual audience, which is now bathed in golden light.
It’s these moments that make even an admittedly lukewarm Four Seasons fan like myself become a repeat guest of Jersey Boys.