Jersey Boys – Trafalgar Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Book: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice

Music: Bob Gaudio

Lyrics: Bob Crewe

Director: Des McAnuff

Seeing a new star in the making is one of the joys of theatregoing and the overnight sensation is peculiar to musicals. A couple of years ago Jac Yarrow made his mark in a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and now its Ben Joyce’s moment in the spotlight as he gives a dream-come-true debut performance as Frankie Valli in Trafalgar Theatre’s revival of Jersey Boys which opens the newly refurbished venue.

Joyce doesn’t just mimic Valli’s incredible pitch but displays a vocal range, confidence and the ability to carry a heavyweight show that belie his status as a 2021 Mountview Academy graduate. It is an extraordinary West End debut that adds an extra pizazz to an old warhorse retuning to central London in this refreshed production after a four-year absence and seven years on tour in the UK.

Jersey Boys is the story of the Four Seasons group who later became Frankie Valli and the (slightly different) Four Seasons. It opens with hustler Tommy De Vito drawing together old friends including Nick Massi to form a band and when several of its members go to prison. It is reshuffled, reshaped and recast until Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio settle the line-up. Chart-topping success soon follows but with it comes jealousy, disruption and debts.

Des McAnuff’s production has plenty of story to fit in, covering the rise and fall of the Four Seasons as well as the lives, loves and losses of its members. But the show is nothing if not slick, using a rolling backdrop, indicative furniture and hanging signs designed by Klara Zieglerova to transport the audience swiftly between locations and down the years.

Some of the best moments incorporate projection designed by Michael Clark that show a camera relay as the group perform on big television shows like national Bandstand, intercut with original audience footage. As musical biopics go, Jersey Boys largely follows the episodic template, some early struggles, a bit of trouble on the side, wives and girlfriends, internal divisions and an acrimonious parting of the ways and McAnuff’s production struggles with pacing in the first 30-minutes or so.

Yet, it departs from the jukebox model by using the songs so carefully, not merely as spontaneous expressions of how a character is feeling but as segues into real Four Season performances or records using the Trafalgar Theatre auditorium as their audience. Each Jersey Boy breaks the fourth wall to give his perspective and later the two concepts align as the song choices more clearly reflect personal events, particularly the stunning My Eyes Adore You, a duet signalling the breakup of Valli and his wife overtaken by his crooner colleagues. With some smartly choreographed sets by Sergio Trujillo, as a musical it cleverly sidesteps the singing-for-no-reason approach.

The songs and the story behind them are what we’re all here for and group members Benjamin Yates as the egotistical Tommy, Karl James Wilson as the quiet Nick and Adam Bailey as song-writing genius Bob Gaudio complete the band, delivering crowd-please numbers including Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, a rousing solo for Joyce that earns him a huge mid-show ovation and a place in the West End firmament.

Booking until 2 January 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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