My first blog review on any theatrical production starts right here and it has a story to it that gives way to the context of the entire piece. Though not as intricate or interesting as this production’s story that nestles itself in the context of the four leading men that Jersey Boys is based on, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
I decided to take my chances in the lottery for Disney’s latest musical adaptation of Aladdin. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful (ironically for the second time) and I was thrust out into the West End in search for another production to satiate my appetite. My sights landed on Jersey Boys, a production I had heard rave reviews about but had never had the desire to see, knowing nothing of Frankie Valli or The Four Seasons (it’s a hotel yeah?). So I took a chance and snatched the tickets out of the cashiers hand to head to the theatre. What I got for my money was a pleasant night out with some enchanting harmonies, a falsetto that a human male could not possibly be able to reach and some well designed set pieces. Particularly the set piece that mirrored the ever famous Jersey Boys programs. However the part I was most pleased about was the story.
The basis of Jersey Boys is too intricate to explain here without giving away the entire show but gist of it is four men from the streets of New Jersey, where so many famous musicians and performers have originated from, tell their story from the perspectives of each of the members beginning with Tommy DeVito (played by Simon Bailey), Bob Gaudio (played by Aussie Declan Egan), Nick Massi (played by Aussie Matt Hunt) and finally Franki Valli (on this night played by Dayle Hodge). We are welcomed into the story of the Four Season from DeVito’s recruitment of Valli and the brotherly, if sometimes bullying, bond they formed. From short jail stints, to gambling, spontaneous marriages until we are welcomed to perhaps the most calm member of the group, Gaudio, who in real life wrote the music for the show. The story continues through to the inevitable decline of the group until the Four Seasons became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. All the while delighting the audience with the bands many, many hit songs such as ‘Earth Angel‘, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry‘, ‘Walk Like a Man‘ and the big ones ‘Sherry’ and Valli’s solo ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.
Now to be frank, for the first half hour of the show I was not a fan, the scenes were moving too fast and the songs played and played to the point where I needed to take a breather to applaud at least one. However, the magic came when all four men sang their first song together. This was where it started flying.
Special applause has to go to the musical direction of Dan Wilkinson. The orchestra seemed to be flying all over the place as drum kits were swung in and out on moving platforms, guitars picked up by multiple members of the cast and a full band of trumpets, trombones and more entered for one show stopping number. How they managed to keep everyone in perfect harmony I will never know. I imagine behind the scenes must have looked like something out of Noises Off!
As for the four men, it was clear they were having the time of their life up on stage, which is especially pleasing since a majority of the cast members has been in the show in multiple countries and tours. A particular moment came at the end of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ when actor Hodge (Valli) broke into a smile at the crowd’s applause. There is clearly something very addictive. A personal favourite for me was Declan Egan. He brought to the chaotic and, at times, unhinged story a surreal calm. He exuded confidence only a performer with experience and one who is entirely involved in his character could bring.
The rest of the ensemble worked cohesively, never over shining the Four Seasons, although some came very close, particularly Nathaniel Morrison, Nicky Griffiths in their multiple roles within the story.
Now, did I love it?
I believe those who absolutely adore Jersey Boys are fans of the Four Seasons music. This of course, is entirely justified for them. The Four Seasons created their own sound which has had rip-offs through the years as well as inspired many other artists, as the four men themselves were inspired by the greats of their time. However, for me, Jersey Boys never excelled to be anything more than an entertaining night out. This could be from the too rampant story or the repetitive music throughout. One thing I can say I was impressed by was how the writers took what could have been an easily performed jukebox musical and turned it into a carefully mixed thread of stories and songs.
If you are looking for songs from the classical era of Quartets and enjoyable storytelling, then this is the show for you. Although be warned, you will be singing ‘Sherry’ for a couple of days afterwards.
Did you know Joe Pesci basically helped start the Four Seasons? Yeah neither did I.
Jersey Boys is playing at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End. Tickets available at Piccadilly Theatre.