Jersey Boys – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Music: Bob Gaudio

Lyrics: Bob Crewe

Director: Des McAnuff

In the 1960s, it was practically impossible to avoid hearing the powerful falsetto of Frankie Valli fronting The Four Seasons as they had a string of hits penned by songwriter Bob Gaudio. Jersey Boys seeks to tell the story of the group from their shaky start in the 1950s to success in the 1960s and beyond.

Members of the band each act as narrator in turn in sections labelled with the seasons in a clever piece of storytelling – so, for example, Spring looks at the early days as the band grows into its sound. The guys all come from New Jersey, from the wrong side of town, but from what is nevertheless a close-knit community forged in a world where a man’s word is his bond and honour is everything. Even when the band begins to disintegrate, they stick together.

And, of course, the whole is punctuated by songs that have seeped into our consciousness. But the sound of The Four Seasons relies heavily on Valli’s voice, equally strong in its normal and falsetto ranges: any telling of their story must recreate this believably. And in Michael Pickering, we have a fine Valli, belting out the songs with power and hitting the high notes with assurance. Pickering has to pick Valli up as a teen and portray him into maturity, two very different characterisations as the older Valli deals with the toll on family and relationships of constant touring and absence from home; Pickering manages this creditably.

But this is not a one-man show, each member of the band has time to flesh out his character. Dalton Wood brings us the brash Tommy DeVito who tries to run the band but whose character flaws find him out; Blair Gibson is more introspective as Gaudio, for whom the music is the important factor above all. At this performance, Dan O’Brien brought us the more quietly spoken Nick Massi, a man who bursts into technicolor life when words erupt from him as he makes a momentous decision. The supporting cast provides the other roles, but they are subservient to the camaraderie within the band and consequently sketched in broader strokes.

Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is true to the time and may well raise a smile as we watch the boys perform moves as they sing. Nevertheless, the moves are sharp, authentic and extremely well executed.

Des McAnuff’s direction makes the whole flow easily forward in time with each segment having different moods. That smooth flow is supported by Klara Zieglerova’s largely empty set into which furniture is smoothly wheeled to transport us to the various locations, assisted by the occasionally harsh lighting scheme of Howell Binkley. Several large projections support the sense of place, some setting scenes very effectively. Less effective, however, are projections reminiscent of frames from American comics of the time or live feeds from cameras onstage as the boys perform on TV; both of these tend to distract from, rather than support, the action.

Overall, however, Jersey Boys is a celebration of a time and place in the history of popular music, giving us a glimpse into the background to those songs that the audience can’t help but hum on leaving the theatre.

Runs until: 18 March and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Plenty of High Notes

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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