Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music: Bob Gaudio
Lyrics: Bob Crewe
Director: Des McAnuff
Taking the musical theatre world by storm since 2004, Jersey Boys has been a firm favourite as a good night out. Resident in London’s West End, this accompanying touring version is on the road until way into next year. It stops at the Grand Theatre in Leeds playing to a capacity audience.
Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – a quartet born in downtown New Jersey in 1960 that went on to have many number one hits and whose lead singer, at the age of 88, still tours today. The young Francesco Castelluccio (Michael Pickering) has quite the voice but none of the nous. Persuaded to change his name to a more dynamic Frankie Valli, he falls in with a group who have more names and reincarnations than Trigger’s brush! Led by the shady Tommy DeVito (Dalton Wood), the chameleon-like quartet (mainly known as the Four Lovers) are embroiled in the underworld of New Jersey and fall in and out of crime whilst trying to be the next big thing. After the recruitment of songwriter Bob Gaudio (Blair Gibson) and with a smash hit Sherry under their belt, stardom finally beckons.
As jukebox musicals go, this incarnation tries to tell the story of the rise, fall and height of the band using their original music. Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise cram as much as they can into the show, whizzing through years of touring in order to free space for a full rendition of a hit. Director Des McAnuff keeps the show on an electric pace with a swiftness that blends one scene into the next with incredible alacrity. The creatives interviewed each of the foursome about their memories of how the band formed and the early days, resulting in a documentary-style telling of the band’s somewhat complicated arrangement where manager Tony doesn’t quite cook the books rather sets fire to them. Under his guidance, as the band’s success hits the heights so does his personal mounting debt and the band’s tax bill!
With a voice as distinct as Frankie Valli’s it is no understatement that the success of any production of Jersey Boys rests on its lead. Singing in powerful falsetto and with a vocal range almost off the scale is no mean feat. The programme notes tell of one singer whose voice could not cope with the demands in an early workshop version of the show. In this production Michael Pickering is outstanding. Frankie Valli’s voice was as flexible as a gymnast and as an untrained singer it was what came naturally to him. Pickering does not simply mimic Valli but temporarily owns him, effortlessly twisting and somersaulting the vocals in songs like Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man. The highlight, however, is Gibson’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – greeted with huge appreciation by the audience and interesting to learn the battle to initially get air play for this classic.
With years of politics, debts, side deals, jealousy and rigours of life on the road, the band inevitably split and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are born – a new chapter that still exists today but this story is about the bedrock that was the foundation. As in any jukebox musical, story always plays second fiddle to the music. Marshall and Elise do a fantastic job of unearthing interesting moments within the band’s genesis and career path, if not a little cheesy in places, but it is the hits penned by Gaudio and performed by Valli that keeps this show onstage and attracting its audience.
With such talent in the ensemble as well as in the leads this is truly a show with panache, style and classic songs that have become pop history.
Runs until 6th August 2022, before continuing on tour.