I arrived at the Baldoria restaurant just a bit before 5:00 PM on Friday, April 28. There I met up with John Cotrofeld and Charles Alexander. This night was John’s idea; he then passed it by Charles and me. We both jumped at the opportunity to help make this evening a success, while, at least for me, thinking why the hell didn’t I think of this? So to John I say thank you. We each had a role to play and I guess we did rather well. John had the unenviable task of finding a place to have dinner that was of reasonable cost and could accommodate a group of about 20 people. He also was in charge of collecting all of the money, a normally thankless task. Charles was in charge of acquiring “Jersey Boys” tickets for the group. He not only came through with the seats but by his interaction with Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons Partnership picked up the tab for Joe’s tickets and provided Joe with excellent seating. I had the easy part; my job was to interface between the three of us and Joe, piece of cake. Then someone, might have been me, brought up the possibility of having Joe recognized from the stage at curtain call, and arrange for the JB cast to meet Joe after the performance, the piece of cake became lodged in my throat. I came up with an idea of getting tributes from former Seasons and friends of the Seasons, and for my idea I was rewarded with being assigned the task of actually obtaining the tributes. You’ll discover the results of my endeavors as you read further into my story.
Shortly after 5:00 PM all members of our group had arrived and we were shown to our table on the second floor. Joe was seated at the head of the table with his family to either side. His son Joey and daughter Kim seated to his left, long time family friend Marianne Maloney seated to his right. Marianne was the best friend of Joe’s late wife Pam, and is Joey’s Godmother. As Joe puts it, Marianne has been like a mother to his children. On a side note, I met Marianne about 33 years ago when she and Pam would attend Four Seasons concerts on a frequent basis. We lost touch over the years, it was good to see and talk to her again, the years have been kind to her. John insisted that Charles and I have seats of honor being seated closest to Joe’s family, while he seated himself at the opposite end of the table.
Before dinner and the arrival of other restaurant customers we paid tribute to Joe. John opened with a speech about how much Joe has meant to both long time and casual Four Seasons fans. Charles was up next and he spoke of how Joe’s tickets were obtained. Joe and his family will be sitting in the 6th row of the center orchestra on the left side aisle, apart from the rest of our group seated at the back of the theatre in the group sales seating area. Joe was not aware of this arrangement and the look of surprise, and then appreciation on his face did not go unnoticed. Then it was my turn to present a series of tributes: one personal, followed by several received from people from Joe’s past (I have to thank Charles for coming to the rescue on a couple of these), and lastly one from a fan’s perspective. The text and authors of the tributes can be read here.
Now it was Joe’s turn to give a speech, his emotions kicked in making it difficult to get his words out. It took a while but Joe got the job done, Joe told the group that he couldn’t believe that after 30 years he still had friends like us, and this was the most special day of his life.
Dinner followed, which was excellent, especially considering the relatively low cost involved. After dinner Joe made the rounds meeting and taking time to talk with each of us. Pictures were taken, some of which can be viewed here thanks to George Juba and Paul Stewart.
There were many private conversations held with Joe by those at the dinner. Here you can find the essence of some of those conversations or the expressed feelings of some of the people touched by Joe.
It was now time to leave for the three block walk to the August Wilson Theatre. In all of the excitement I had forgotten to ask Joe to do something while still at the restaurant. During our walk up 8th Ave. I asked Joe to do his famous impersonations, all two of them. Being the showman that he is Joe stopped pedestrian traffic as he did his Clark Gable and Cary Grant impersonations. You had to be there.
Upon reaching the theatre Joe was asked to take a few more pictures, some using the theatre marquee as a background. A couple of these can be viewed here, again thanks to George Juba.
We settled in to watch the play, not much to say about the play other than it was the usual multiple standing ovation event it’s been for almost 7 months now. Our group took the lead for four standing “O’s” with other audience members following suit. For those of you who have not seen the play on Broadway, you can’t feel the thrill of being there by reading the accounts of others; it’s an experience not unlike attending a Four Seasons concert in the ‘60s.
OK, here's where I failed. I was not successful in my attempts to have Joe recognized from the stage. They haven't done that for any of the dozens of big celebrities who have seen the show. However I was able to arrange for the cast to meet Joe and his family. After the audience cleared out of the theatre, Stage Manager Richard Hester escorted Joe and family backstage. I accompanied them as Joe asked me to take pictures to document the event for him. The rest of our group left the theatre and waited by the stage door exit for Joe to return. Alas, I’m sure no one is waiting for me to return.
We received a short tour of the behind the scenes action and wound up for a time underneath the stage and shown where the elevator devices were located that are used during the play. Eventually we wound up on the stage greeted by several members of the cast. Joe spoke with each and pictures were taken. Joe told them all that he thought the play was excellent. Joe used the word powerful when expressing his feelings. Joe understood the need to compress the timeline and that he had no problem with that part of the process. While I can’t recall the exact words used I can attest that the cast members believed that the play was that much more validated if Joe, who lived part of the events being portrayed, felt as he did. As we bid goodbye each of the cast asked if they could have copies of the pictures. Of course I said yes, they’ve been given access to the pictures with a link of their own.
Richard showed us the path behind the stage that leaves to the stage door exit. There was still a small crowd outside in addition to our group of people. The remaining cast exited a short time later and they stayed to talk and sign autographs for as long as anyone was interested. John Lloyd Young said that early on during the play he had spotted Joe in the sixth row center and spent the entire performance watching Joe out of the corner of his eye, seeing how the former Season was reacting to the show.
By 11:15 PM Joe’s ride had arrived and it was time to say goodnight. I had a lot of time to reminisce about the evening during my walk back to Grand Central and subsequent train ride home. I started forming the framework for this story on the train, wanting to get a head start so that I could have it finished in short order. I hope you enjoyed it.
Frank Rovello – May 3, 2006