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De Niro, Pesci Turn Out for 'Jersey Boys'

'Jersey Boys' | Tom Cruise | Al Green

De Niro, Pesci Turn Out for 'Jersey Boys'

Two guys we think of as New York boys turned out for "Jersey Boys" last night on Broadway.

Robert De Niro and wife Grace Hightower came to support their buddy Joe Pesci for the opening of "Jersey Boys," the Broadway musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

De Niro was not disappointed. Neither were Joanna Gleason and Chris Sarandon, Bebe Neuwirth, actors Frank Vincent and Dennis Farina, Jimmy and Margo Nederlander and all the "Sopranos" associated with Valli, including that show's creator, David Chase, Cathy Narducci, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore and 'Little' Steve van Zandt with wife Maureen.

That's because "Jersey Boys" is a home run, an unqualified hit right out of the box.

A joyous, ebullient evening of songs you've known and loved, "Jersey Boys" also has a killer cast, a real book by "Annie Hall" screenwriter Marshall Brickman and terrific production.

Broadway has on its favorite thing on its hands: an overnight success. Order your tickets right now, because "Jersey Boys" is going to be sold out for some time.

The musical is the brainchild of Valli and his Four Seasons co-writer/producer Bob Gaudio. Together with producer Bob Crewe, these guys fashioned dozens of hits from "Walk Like a Man" to "Rag Doll."

Who knew they would not only hold up so well, but work so beautifully on stage? Last night, the cast of "Jersey Boys" got two standing ovations during the show ... unprecedented! I've never seen anything like it.

By just a couple of songs into the show, you could tell that stars John Lloyd Young and Christian Hoff — not to mention Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer — had the audience in their control. And all of them are total Broadway newcomers. What a story!

John Lloyd Young is a 30-year-old Brown grad who's never been on Broadway. He didn't even originate the role of Frankie Valli when "Jersey Boys" debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in California (the first Frankie blew his voice out).

Now I can tell you with certainty: Young will be nominated for, and will probably win, the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Hoff will do the same in the supporting category, and Reichard may as well.

The reason — beside their obvious talents — is that Brickman has written a show for them with deeply fleshed-out characterizations. Even if you've never heard of the Four Seasons, by the time this show is over, you will know everything you need to know about them, and care, too.

What you probably don't know is that Pesci — the Joe Pesci from Martin Scorsese films and "My Cousin Vinny" — discovered them in New Jersey in the early '60s. He's a character in the show, played by Michael Longoria (no relation, he says, to "Desperate Housewives"' Eva).

It was Pesci who pushed the disparate guys together, helped name them and sent them on their way.

Pesci told me last night during intermission that he's a major investor in the musical, of course. That could be bad news for his fans, because the humorous character actor stands to make a fortune from "Jersey Boys." He hasn't acted in a movie since 1998.

"There was nothing I wanted to do," he told me. "But I did a little thing for De Niro here in 'The Good Shepherd.' I wanted to see if I still had it."

De Niro, who had a bodyguard in the theater, nodded in assent. He shook my hand but declined to stand. He was very, well, De Niro. Would he come to the party later?

"I have to get up and work in the morning," he said, referring to directing "The Good Shepherd." He said he was enjoying the show.

Certainly the audience was, including Paul Shaffer of the David Letterman show and Sire Records founder Seymour Stein (he inducted the Four Seasons into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the culminating episode of the musical).

Famed DJ Jerry Blavatt was there, along with teen radio idol "Cousin Brucie" Morrow and WOR's Joey Reynolds. The latter has talked about Crewe and Gaudio for years on his nightly syndicated show; it finally paid off last night.

Young told me that in order to get Valli's voice down right, he listened to Four Seasons records for three months on a loop on his Walkman.

"Then, for the last month before rehearsals, I didn't listen to any of it," he said.

He has Valli's diction down so perfectly it's scary, but his performance is not an imitation. This is not "Beatlemania."

Young is enough of himself — and so are the three other main actors — that they transcend the Four Seasons and become their own musical group. That's why the show works.

Young told me his favorite songs in the show are the lesser known "Dawn (Go Away)" and "Beggin.'"

But when Young launches the group into "Sherry," the audience went wild. The standing ovation is spontaneous and comes a little more than halfway through the first act. Even De Niro and Pesci had to join in.

And later, when the actors and the real Four Seasons took curtain calls to thunderous applause, Pesci jumped up on stage and took his well deserved bows with Longoria.

What makes "Jersey Boys" so good — aside from the music, the acting, etc. — is that unlike, say, "Lennon," the show is refreshingly honest.

All four of the group members are shown, warts and all, as bad parents, gamblers, etc. Nothing about their story is whitewashed.

The result is that we get a rare picture of real, fallible human beings whose careers skyrocketed from obscurity to international fame. The fact that they made it, and lasted, is the accomplishment. "Jersey Boys" is just the icing on the cake.

Tom Cruise: Sister Gets PR Boot

Tom Cruise is hiring a professional publicist at last.

He's hired veteran Paul Bloch — one of my favorite people and a real gentleman — from Rogers & Cowan.

This would mean that Tom's sister, Lee Ann Devette, who succeeded Cruise's longtime flack Pat Kingsley, is out.

Cruise is obviously aware of the ferociously negative press he's gotten this year. Devette will return to handling all of Cruise's Scientology-related charitable efforts.

Interestingly enough, Bloch already handles a lot of people with whom Cruise has similar interests. He's the PR rep for fellow Scientologists John Travolta and Kelly Preston and Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley (Bloch also handles non-Sci clients such as Bruce Willis and Sir Anthony Hopkins).

Cruise has hired Bloch to do his personal PR, I am told, as well as represent his company, Cruise/Wagner Productions, and, presumably, the ever-suggestible Katie Holmes.

Katie fired her longtime publicist Leslie Sloane this fall and replaced her with Devette at Cruise's behest. Now she'll sheep it along to Rogers & Cowan, getting a third flack in less than a year.

Al Green: How to Mend a Broken Career

Al Green did indeed play B.B. King's on 42nd St. on Friday night, his second of two shows last week. The room has been the perfect spot for great acts such as Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick to play shows for top-priced tickets.

In those cases, they delivered. With Green, I'm not so sure what happened.

Green still has his falsetto and knows how to milk it. We love him for that. But I can only imagine what patrons thought after spending $175 per seat only to get a lukewarm hour-length show with no encore.

For one thing, Green no longer sings whole lyrics to songs, just the first verse and the choruses. For the latter, he relies on the audience to join in. He mugs for the audience, but lets his capable band do the work. It's a very cynical 60 minutes.

Part of the show involved Al singing the title-lines to a bunch of old soul hits like "I Can't Help Myself," "Bring It On Home to Me," etc.

As the people at my table said, we would have been interested in hearing each of those songs sung by him in their entirety. This was not to be.

"Let's Stay Together," Green's biggest hit, is thrown off Las Vegas-style to the point where it is inconsequential.

What Green is doing now is ruining his legacy, if he still had one. This is too bad.

Then it dawned on me as he was horsing around on stage that back in the day, he was the 1974 version of Bobby Brown, except with hits.

Up until now, I'd thought he'd been Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson rolled into one. He might have been the soul-standard bearer of the post-Motown/Stax generation. But he doesn't take it a bit seriously.

Snap out of it, Al. We need you.