Writers: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise
Music: Bob Gaudio
Lyrics: Bob Crewe
Director: Des McAnuff
Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
The Grand in Leeds is celebrating its 140th anniversary! On the 14th November 1878, this wonderful theatre first opened its doors, showing a production of Much Ado About Nothing. It certainly started something though, and the back catalogue of famous names who have trodden its boards since, is testament to how successful this traditional venue has been, and very much still is. Even two world wars did not phase this grand institution, and entertainment carried on regardless. How fitting then, that the theatre should choose a tough biographical production like Jersey Boys to celebrate its birthday.
Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, was created in 2005 as a documentary-style musical dramatising the formation, rise to success and various breakups of the 1960s rock ‘n’ roll group. The story is structured as four “seasons”, each narrated independently by a different member of the group, bringing his own perspective to the history – both on stage and behind the scenes – and to the music. These boys are no squeaky-clean high school chaps, they come largely from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey, drawn together by a love of music. A robbery runs as a backdrop to a musical performance, and the Mafia is an ever-present threat to proceedings. One of the lads runs up huge debts, his life is in danger but the others feel bound to bail him out. There is a sadness and disillusionment in personal relationships, group members come and go and there is even disagreement about what name they are to be known as.
In short, the story is no easy one, but through it all the music shines through. Hits such as Rag Doll, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, My Eyes Adored You, December 1963 (Oh What a Night) and Working My Way Back to You all have lyrics that progress the action. It’s fast-moving and energetic, with different angles of the situations reflecting the different characters of the four boys. The musical is very much a ‘warts and all’ revelation, and one has to feel that Frankie Valli (who incidentally at 84 years of age is still touring and singing) is very courageous to allow all this to be exposed.
Michael Watson who plays Frankie in this performance has a very good falsetto range to his voice. It is hard to believe that the real Frankie never had a singing lesson; he thought that “everyone could just sing”. On the evening of this review, there were changes to all the other leading roles due to illness. Enter Peter Nash as Tommy Devito, James Winter as Bob Gaudio, and Karl James Wilson as Nick Massi – all extremely good. Their voices in harmony sound wonderful, and even a slight lack of confidence did not detract from their ability to sing, act, play an instrument and dance all at the same time.
The set is very effective, grey and metallic, with staircases and a raised level for extra dialogue and dramatic exits. Colour is injected into the stage in the form of pictures projected on a screen above the platform, and city and skyline scenes look very effective behind the musicians below. Costumes are as expected, the trademark red then glittery jackets look superb, and the sharp suits are a reminder that such attire was the norm of that era.
It’s a great show that everyone should see. On face value, this is merely a biographical account of the unlikely success of a bunch of lads, but it is much more than that in reality. The music in itself is enough to sell the show, but the emotions running underneath bring in another layer. If there is a definable fault in this production, it’s that more encores would be very acceptable, with more chance to get up in the aisles and dance.
Runs until Saturday 1 December 2018 | Image: Contributed