Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Director: Des McAnuff
Music: Bob Gaudio
Reviewer: Clare White
Oh, what a night, late December back in, well, 2017 – award-winning musical Jersey Boys premières its second national tour at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. Since opening on Broadway in 2002, the acclaimed musical has been seen and loved by over 25 million people all around the world.
Starting in New Jersey in 1962, Jersey Boys tells the whirlwind story of four ordinary boys who joined together to become an extraordinary pop band. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons set the sound of a generation with hits like Big Girls Don’t Cry and Bye Bye Baby, and in a relatively short space of time, became one of the most successful acts in music history.
This is no sickly-sweet jukebox musical – it’s a gripping biography packed with energy, grit and truth. The group’s rise to stardom was punctuated with conflict and drama, and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice do not shy away from it, producing, as Frankie Valli himself puts it, ‘a story told with as much truth as possible’. It is a fascinating journey. The extensive back catalogue of hits is used to great effect as the members navigate prison, debt, bust-ups and run-ins with gangsters. Individually, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Frankie Valli were flawed, but together, they created magic.
And that magic is exactly what is recreated on stage. All four of the leading men have appeared in previous productions of Jersey Boys, and form a class act. Each Season tells a part of the story from his own point of view – we meet founder member Tommy DeVito first, full of charming arrogance but with a destructive edge, played by the brilliant Simon Bailey. Equally good is Lewis Griffiths, who makes a welcome return as bassist Nick Massi – his straight-faced one-liners get the biggest laughs.
DeVito recruits Massi and a 16-year-old Frankie to form a group, but the trio struggles to find its sound. It’s not until they are introduced to fourth and final member Bob Gaudio that things really click into place and the hits come thick and fast – Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Beggin’ and Working My Way Back to You catapulted the group to super stardom, and ultimately resulted in 175 million record sales.
Declan Egan plays songwriter supremo Gaudio, clearly the brains behind the band. His portrayal is earnest and endearing, and his performance of December 1963 (Oh What a Night) is particularly good. Completing the picture is Michael Watson as Frankie Valli. His falsetto is outstanding and he brings out both the warmth and inner strength of the diminutive star. His solo, My Angel, when Frankie learns of the death of his daughter, is extremely poignant. As good as the leading men are, its together that the foursome shine. Their chemistry, harmonies and synced moves are electric and the result is captivating.
A two-level split stage works well to allow the movement and energy to flow, and a talented supporting company, many of whom take on multiple roles, lends a hand with the seamless stage transitions. The look and feel of the show is slick and powerful, although the pop-art cartoon images, projected onto a large central screen throughout do jar slightly, as they seem out of place and in the wrong decade. It’s a minor quibble in what is an outstanding production.
The story of the Four Seasons is engaging, their music is uplifting and the resulting musical production is sensational. This latest production is fresh, energetic and exhilarating. Oh, what a night indeed.
Runs until 6 January 2018 | Image: Brinkhoff Mögenburg