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Jersey Boys – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Music: Bob Gaudio

Lyrics: Bob Crewe

Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Director: Des McAnuff

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Well, if one didn’t know that The Four Seasons was (and is) a real group composed of real people, one might well imagine the story told in Jersey Boys to be a flight of fancy. But it is true – some scenes, of course, are fictional and the timelines are perhaps distorted to ease the telling, but this is essentially the story of four outwardly ordinary guys from New Jersey who created a sound unique to them. Born out of discussions with each of the original band, the metaphor of the Four Seasons is carried throughout as each band member in turn takes centre stage to give his take on the band’s story as they move from spring – the genesis of the band – to summer and great success, then to an amount of fading but still hard work in autumn and winter.

The Four Seasons is emerges under the leadership of Tommy de Vito alongside Nick Massi, Frankie Valli and songwriter Bob Gaudio. They eventually start making hit records with the trademark voice that is Frankie Valli’s. But de Vito talks a better game than he walks and allows the band to rack up debt to seedy moneylenders. When this is uncovered, the story takes a different turn and structural cracks in the band begin to appear. This is not a downbeat story, although it has its share of sad and tragic moments. At the heart is the celebration of the talent that lay behind The Four Seasons and their legacy.

Book cowriter Marshall Brickman was a film writer when the seed of the idea of Jersey Boys first germinated. This background is clear in the cinematic nature of the show, with short scenes and multiple viewpoints. In order to make this work without inordinate gaps in the action the whole cast is supremely well-choreographed in moving props and furniture at the double and the set itself is a joy to watch as elements glide effortlessly on and offstage. The basic set is quite bare, with comic book projections, a couple of spiral staircases and a catwalk to allow for different levels, but it works extremely well. It is a tribute to designer Klara Zieglerova that such a technical set works flawlessly.

Through each narrative, we get to know each band member well. Tim Driesen as Valli moves from a gauche teenager to the self-assured frontman and bandleader. Driesen has certainly perfected Valli’s sound and powerful falsetto. He also shows us the difficulties of life on the road, with the impact on his marriage and children made clear. Stephen Webb brings us the pig headed DeVito. His naïve wheeling and dealing, all in the name of the band and with scant regard to consequences, or even the law at times, is well to the fore. Webb makes de Vito a sympathetic character, one whose heart is in the right place but one who can’t really cope with the demands put upon him. By contrast even as a teenager, Sam Ferriday’s Bob Gaudio is level-headed and with an eye to the future. Ferriday never allows him to become pompous as the story unfolds. Lewis Griffiths is understated as Nick Massi, the group’s bass singer. His voice is as warm and soothing as hot chocolate, the perfect counterpoint to Driesen’s vocal gymnastics. Massi is always there as a low murmur until, quite suddenly, the impact of touring makes him snap and leave the group. Griffiths opens our eyes to just what it is to tour in the way Massi describes so we understand his petulant snap decision.

In the supporting cast, Matt Gillett is gloriously camp as the OTT Bob Crewe; Damien Buhagier’s Joe Pesci is a masterpiece of comic timing; Amelia Adams-Pierce’s rendition of Mary Delgado, Frankie’s long suffering wife is touching. Mob loan shark Norm Waxman is suitably dark from Dominic Smith, although Gyp DeCarlo’s reaction to Frankie’s performance of “My Mother’s Eyes” is perhaps a little bit two-dimensional.

The real hero is Gaudio’s incomparable music. The show is not simply punctuated by songs from Seasons’ back catalogue, they action is accentuated by them. Driesen’s version of “My Eyes Adored You”, full of yearning, with Adams-Pierce after the failure of his marriage makes the point perfectly. This use of the music puts Jersey Boys ahead of so-called jukebox musicals: here the songs support the plot and its development.

A great night out that had this audience dancing in its seats and ultimately on its feet in a story of how four guys fought the odds, had a few setbacks, triumphed and left a wonderful musical legacy. Whether you remember the music first time round or not, this is well worth catching.

Photo: Helen Maybanks | Runs until 4th January 2015

Music: Bob Gaudio Lyrics: Bob Crewe Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice Director: Des McAnuff Reviewer: Selwyn Knight They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Well, if one didn’t know that The Four Seasons was (and is) a real group composed of real people, one might well imagine the story told in Jersey Boys to be a flight of fancy. But it is true – some scenes, of course, are fictional and the timelines are perhaps distorted to ease the telling, but this is essentially the story of four outwardly ordinary guys from New Jersey who created a sound…

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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.