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‘Jersey Boys’ producer reflects on unlikely hit and leaving with ‘dignity’

It’s an old and arguably cheesy metaphor for producers to talk about shows as their children. So “Jersey Boys” producer Michael David goes one better, venturing into the literal.

“There are 248 babies that have been born under the ‘Jersey Boys’ moniker. There are these families all over,” says the co-founder and partner in Dodger Theatricals, speaking from New York.

“Jersey Boys” will be the 12th-longest-running show in Broadway history when it closes in January, after 11 years at the August Wilson Theatre. The Las Vegas edition closes Sunday at Paris Las Vegas, which David says is “entirely coincidental.”

Its eight-year run (split between two casinos) will make it the longest-running Broadway musical on the Strip. Only “Mamma Mia!” came close with six years at Mandalay Bay.

Children who were already born provide perspective as well. “Our daughter was 10 and we couldn’t get a sitter. She was in the audition room when we auditioned John Lloyd Young for Frankie,” David recalls. Now she’s a university senior.

My daughter is a high school junior. But in November 2005, I went straight from her fifth-birthday party at a paint-your-own pottery store to the airport, heading to New York to report a story about the “Broadway to Vegas” trend.

Sure, you chuckle now. And all the other Broadway imports in that story are indeed Vegas trivia, though some fared better than others: “Phantom of the Opera,” “Hairspray,” “The Producers” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Of those titles, “Jersey Boys” was the least committed to the Strip at the time. “The conversation (about bringing it to Las Vegas) began in earnest with you in this office (during our interview),” David recalls.

But something just clicked with this musical bio of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Perhaps because it was a “guy’s musical” with real Las Vegas connections: Tommy DeVito, the troublemaker in the story who is banished to Vegas, is 88 and still living in Henderson.

Or perhaps it was because a feared negative — a plot — turned out to be a positive. “Jersey Boys” dared to be serious, and at times intense, and didn’t underestimate the audience’s intelligence or worry about how many non-English-speaking customers it was missing.

David is sure of only one thing. “There’s nothing perfunctory or hyperbolic about what I’m going to say. I don’t think there’s ever been a better match for the show than in Las Vegas.”

The musical ran a year in San Francisco and two in Chicago and Toronto. “But no place has been a more comfortable home for the show,” he says. “Not just onstage, but for our cast and crew. They put down their own roots in the community and become active members in it.”

That’s the hardest part.

“You begin to relate to show business as a real job. It’s so ephemeral and then suddenly, ‘I can get married. I can have a mortgage.’

“We hate to leave,” he says.

But here and on Broadway, it’s a choice of “determine our future as opposed to have someone else determine it for us. … I think we wanted to leave with dignity and hopefully elegance all around.”

It would be more logical for us to think that each year a show lingers brings it a step closer to that inevitable day that it’s played out. But for me and perhaps many others, “Jersey Boys” was almost the opposite: The longer it was here, the more we seemed to take it for granted.

“You don’t really think. You just begin to behave like your life will go on,” David says. “We were hardly complacent, because I think we’d done this enough to acknowledge how rare it is to have something that fractures the life cycle as violently as this did for most shows. But I do think that you begin to get comfortable.”

And of course “Jersey Boys” continues its journey, literally, on the road. If you really miss it, head to Los Angeles during a six-week run there next May and June.

David’s theatrical partnership has seen other hits both before (“The Who’s Tommy”) and after (“Matilda The Musical,” which visits The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in March).

They may have been home runs, but this one was a grand slam, a once-in-a-career thing if you’re lucky. “You never imagine the home run,” David says. “In our business, considering how few shows make their money back, you hope for a single or a double. And that’s great.”

So with “Jersey Boys,” we can shift the metaphor from children to the other end of the age spectrum, as David relates an analogy he and another producer laughed about:

You tell someone your grandmother died and they look all sad as they offer their condolences and ask how old she was.

You say she was 106.

They say, “OK, cut it out.”

That’s “Jersey Boys” in Broadway dog years, David observes: “Unbelievable in the life of somebody who does this foolhardy thing for a living.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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