Column: Late December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday January 24, 2006

My New York friends took me to see the musical Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre on 52nd Street in Manhattan. They thought that because I grew up in the Garden State I would identify with, at the very least, the title. And in some ways I did. Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was familiar because, like almost everyone from the ‘burbs in the early ‘60s, I grew up with their music. 

Before entering the theater I had no idea how many Four Seasons’ tunes I knew by heart. 

It turns out I know more Frankie Valli lyrics then those of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Unbeknownst to me, Frank and the Seasons made up the background noise of my formative years. After four-plus decades I have, both regrettably and remarkably retained without effort, every word, doo wop, and mumble uttered by Mr. Valli and his boys. 

It helps, of course, that every Four Seasons’ tune sounds exactly the same, but perhaps that’s part of the charm. Secretly listening to WIBG Philadelphia blaring from my pink transistor radio hidden under my pillow, I woke up to Silhouettes (“On the Shade”), brushed my teeth to “Earth Angel,” ate breakfast to “Big Man in Town,” and left for Wenonah Elementary School to the strains of “C’mon Marianne.” 

I returned home, flicked on the radio, and was greeted by Frankie once again, singing Sherry (“Sherry baby”), Dawn (“You’re no good for me”), and my then personal favorite, “Ragdoll.” Just before going to bed Frank serenaded me with “My Eyes Adored You,” and followed up with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” 

Is it any wonder I turned out to be the person I am today with short, falsetto, very Catholic Frankie telling the pre-pubescent me all night long he was ‘working his way back with a burning love inside’? 

On the way to the theater, I reviewed my brief history with the Broadway musical form. When was the last time I had seen a show in the Big Apple? I recalled going on a school bus trip when I was 14 or 15 years old, but what did I see? It wasn’t Hair, because eighth-graders from Gateway Regional Junior High wouldn’t have been permitted to see it. It wasn’t Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Westside Story, My Fair Lady, or Fiddler on the Roof. Cats came later, as did Godspell and A Chorus Line. It wasn’t Oh Calcutta! because I would have definitely remembered naked people on stage. 

I went through the alphabet hoping it would help me jump-start my memory. I asked my friends to sing aloud the show tunes they remembered from childhood. They mumbled weirdly jumbled interpretations of “Climb Every Mountain,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “The Rain in Spain,” but we didn’t get any closer to unlocking my forgotten past. The only words to Camelot anyone could recall were these four sung in a Richard Harris-affected baritone: “to Ca-me-lot.” 

I tried another approach. What musicals did they see when they were teenagers? There was a long pause while everyone struggled to mentally search back 45 years or so. Suddenly, they all shouted at once: Man of LaMancha! Each of them burst into their own rendition of “The Impossible Dream.” It was pathetic. 

What had happened to us? We’d gone from dreaming the impossible dream, fighting the unbeatable foe, and bearing the unbearable sorrow to “I’m Beggin You and Bye Bye Baby, (don’t make me cry).” 

But while I don’t recall much about Don Quixote and his quest, I do remember Frankie Valli advising and admonishing in “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.” Perhaps it’s time to take his advice again and apply it to my waning memories as in “Let’s Hang on to What We Got (don’t give up girl, we’ve got a lot).”