CentralDramaMusicalReview

Jersey Boys – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Music: Bob Gaudio

Lyrics: Bob Crewe

Director: Des McAnuff

Jersey Boys is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, following their story through the highs and lows of fame: its glitzy presentation and killer soundtrack has made them a sensation all over again. We get the opportunity to go behind the music and into their personal story in this musical phenomenon. Until they started singing together, they were just four guys from Jersey, but they had a sound that nobody had heard and that the radio has never got bored of.

But, while their onstage harmonies were sheer perfection, backstage the story is quite different. There is a jarring between the heavenly harmonies onstage and the icy shells of the men themselves. Outwardly immaculately turned-out popstars and inwardly, a group of dodgy dealing tough guys with mob connections. Unlike many jukebox musicals where the back catalogue of an artist is retrospectively fitted to an imagined narrative, Jersey Boys is the true story of the band, soundtracked with their own music.

The show is narrated in turn by each band member, with each taking their own season. This results in a somewhat slow-burning start to the show and a narrative that can be fragmented and clunky at times. However, this mirrors the disconnected nature of human memory and so does fit the presentation.
Dalton Wood kicks off proceedings in spring as Tommy DeVito, the would-be gangster with an ear for music. He gives an assured and comical performance as Tommy, always with an undertone of latent aggression. Wood has more than a passing resemblance to Christopher Walken in his vocal delivery and physical performance which shines when he plays with the quartet.

Narrating the slow-paced and information-heavy first quarter, Wood does an excellent job of documenting the journey of the boys from singing under the streetlamp to the dizzying heights of global fame. This section of the show is a candid reflection of the men as people and doesn’t shy away from the less wholesome aspects of their characters. Wood handles the criminality with gravitas.

Bob Gaudio (Blair Gibson) takes over for summer. It is here that the show really hits its stride, and we get to see the incredible four-piece harmonies that we came for. The chemistry between the four of them is poetry in motion. Sherry signifies a turning point in the show and injects a palpable atmosphere. We are treated to a split stage performance as the band is live-streamed onto a projector. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is like a perfectly preserved time capsule: it is slick and delivered with surgical precision. Gibson is excellent as Bob Gaudio – a pitch perfect performance of the man behind the hits.

As fall takes hold in the second act, we see Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) take the reins. One of the standout performers of the evening, Griffiths is a true triple threat. He is powerful in the dance numbers and frequently pulls focus in the crowd-pleasing scenes such as Walk Like a Man and Sherry.  The guitar choreography and syncopated rhythm within these scenes sees the boys transform from would-be mob hands to viable popstars, and Griffiths is clearly having the time of his life.

Finally, as the troubles within the band reach breaking point, we arrive in winter and hear from Frankie Valli himself (Michael Pickering). Pickering arguably has the most difficult role in the show in that Valli’s gargantuan vocal range is key to the sound of the Four Seasons and is instantly identifiable. There is no disappointment on that front, though, as he gives a killer vocal performance coupled with an energetic physicality. Pickering shines in the group dance numbers and bounces off his bandmates with an incredible fraternal chemistry. He is every inch the rockstar in this role. Valli is a multi-faceted character and Pickering delivers a strong. nuanced performance coming to a climax as he brings the house down with Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

Michael Clark’s hard industrial design works well in the smooth transitioning between rough New Jersey neighbourhood and glitzy music venue. It is simple and functional, working well yet never overshadowing the production. Coupled with Des McAnuff’s excellent direction and the killer choreography by Sergio Trujillo, Jersey Boys really is the full package.

The story does have some pacing issues and is at points fragmented, with the main culprits being the beginning of the story which is extremely content-heavy, and the ending which has an awkward jump from Frankie Valli’s own extreme personal low to the induction into the rock and roll hall of fame with no bridging point in between.  While these narrative points are obviously a little jarring, they are minimised by the exceptional performances and the show’s incredible soundtrack.

Runs Until 5 March 2022 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

A fabulous night out!

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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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