Theatre Review – Jersey Boys @ Piccadilly Theatre

Director: Des McAnuff

Music/Lyrics: Bob Gaudio, Bob Crewe

Stars: Michael Watson, Jon Boydon, Edd Post, Matt Nalton

Premiere date: 2005 (Broadway), 2008 (West End)

Basis: Four Seasons songs




Best Part: The dynamic musical numbers

Worst Part: The cheesy comic-strip back-drops

New Jersey, known to many as “that place near Manhattan”, has birthed and bred some of America’s greatest talents. In amongst the factories, strong accents, and family ties, true passion resides. Transforming the music scene, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons obliterated the pop charts for several decades. Releasing hit songs throughout five decades and selling over 175 million records, the group reached the little people of suburban Jersey and the world.

Jersey Boys on the West End.

The Four Seasons, taking the name from a neon sign overlooking a bowling alley, is still seen as one of music’s most influential acts. Broadway smash hit Jersey Boys tells their scintillating and heartbreaking story with style and vigour. Keeping it in the family, Bob Gaudio’s hand in the production elevates this seminal jukebox musical above the rest. Gaudio, as one of America’s bravest singer/songwriters, is one of several gems amongst this production’s overwhelming cultural glow. Jersey Boys, soon to be blessed with a Clint Eastwood-directed adaptation, hits everyone similarly. It’s easy to become immersed in the group’s phenomenal hits and overwhelming aura. The musical, tracing the rise-and-fall ride of the group’s time in the spotlight, keeps toes tapping and hearts racing throughout the 2½-hour duration. In a reflective twist on typical jukebox musicals, the musical kicks off with ‘Ces soirees-la’, a cover of Four Season’s hit ‘December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). Told by rebellious bandleader Tommy DeVito (Jon Boydon), the story then jumps back to a simpler time of diner-set gigs and “revolving door” prisons. Thrown in and out of jail, DeVito’s troupe, changing its name every week, is a major source of trouble in downtown Jersey.

One of many hit musical numbers.

Beyond the seasonal changes and alignment switches, the group’s journey swiftly glides through the momentous, easy-to-follow structure. Peppered with larger-than-life characters, this musical hits high notes from DeVito’s first words onward. Of course, DeVito’s greatest discovery comes in the form of timid singer Frankie Valli (Michael Watson). Pushing him into the spotlight, women and recording contracts threw themselves at this enlightening ensemble. As a Martin Scorsese feature set to pleasant pop tracks, Jersey Boys embraces its iconic locations and hearty stereotypes. As a heartfelt tribute to Middle America and the notorious group, the musical never forgets about the troupe’s origin story and connections with the mob. “I’m gonna be as big as Sinatra”, Valli confidently says to his first squeeze, and future wife, Mary (Victoria Brazil). After that sweet and hysterical statement, the musical’s immense nostalgia factor rises like Valli’s distinctive voice. Breaking the mould, the narration paints a succinct and detailed picture of each member’s perspective. Brushed with fame and frustrations, the group’s astounding prowess is lovingly touched upon. The other members, acclaimed singer/songwriter Gaudio (Edd Post), who wrote ‘Who Wears Short Shorts?’ when he was 15, and wily bass player Nick Massi (Matt Nalton) round out the musical’s impressive aura. Massi, at one point, even labels himself the “Ringo” of the group. Outlining everything from the “British Invasion” of pop groups in the 1960s to their induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the musical’s beating heart is never overshadowed by its rousing covers or eye-popping production design. Shifting sets and time-periods faster than anticipated, the production comes off as an inescapable trip down memory lane.

“Like that bunny on TV, it just keeps going and going and going. Chasing the music. Trying to find our way home.” (Frankie Valli (Michael Watson), Jersey Boys)

The ultimate crescendo.

Despite stellar production values, cartoonish images – depicting pretty girls, band names, and important dates – become false notes in this otherwise harmonious tribute. However, the real flair resides in this unfolding narrative etched into music history. Along the way – as we speed through Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring – the band ascends and descends in spectacular fashion. DeVito’s gambling problems and Valli’s relationship issues round out a jaw-dropping second half. Matching catchy tunes with heartbreaking twists and turns, Jersey Boys accepts the good and bad of this story. However, pushing past the feuds and foibles, each track casts a timeless and insatiable spell upon the already manic audience. Their greatest tracks, ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, and ‘Walk Like a Man’, tell a hearty story about the transition from misfortunate troupe to Top-100 success story. Depicting a time of studio pressure and racial tensions, the musical depicts the Four Seasons as a group daring to be tangible and ever lasting. In this visceral journey, Valli and Massi take over story-telling duties. Valli’s story – bolstered by sterling renditions of ‘C’mon, Marianne’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, and ‘Working my Way Back to You’ – juggles divorce, gargantuan expectations, and debts as tragedy strikes. Despite this, the performances relish in this production’s comedic heights. Watson’s Valli is a mesmerising one. Capturing Valli’s falsetto sound and rambunctious dance moves, Watson is a standout performer. Boydon, a spitting image of DeVito, is a charismatic and lively force. Maintaining DeVito’s outlandish voice and emotional current, Boydon is an entertaining young actor. Keeping focus on the Four Seasons, Post and Nalton become charming foils in this gargantuan tale.

Soaring beyond minor quibbles, Jersey Boys lives up to its stellar reputation. As the most intelligent and invigorating jukebox musical to date, this glorious production invests in its all-powerful quartet by revelling in a hearty dose of nostalgia. Thanks to boisterous comedic moments, clever set designs, and wondrous performances, this West End production skilfully carries the undying Jersey Boys legacy.

Verdict: A rambunctious and potent jukebox musical. 

The Two Faces of January Review – Hide & Seek

Director: Hossein Amini

Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)

Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan

Release Date: April 16th, 2014

Distributors: Studio Canal, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK, France

Running time: 96 minutes



Best part: The immaculate scenery. 

Worst part: The underwhelming love triangle.

Film noir, like many genres reminiscent of classic Hollywood, relies on several visual and thematic ingredients. Marked by alluring visuals, trench coats, and seductive femme fatales, the genre thrives today thanks to aspirational filmmakers. Keen to bring back Hollywood’s greatest motifs, The Two Faces of January is one such homage to film noir and all its charming prowess. However, whilst honouring the genre, this drama-thriller seeks to envelop and grapple with several other genres simultaneously.

The Two Faces of January, despite the impressive cast and sumptuous scenery, has slipped under the radar. Like a shadow dancing across black-and-white film reels, this feature’s motions and emotions match up to its all-powerful influences. Sweeping across the festival circuit, it’s strange how almost no one caught onto this intriguing chase-saga. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name, the narrative shares a handful of similarities with one of her most notorious works. Like The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January tells a softly spoken parable about dirty deeds and picturesque landscapes. Set in 1962, the movie investigates the highest peaks and seediest alley-way-laden depths of Europe. We follow enthusiastic and amoral tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac) as he attempts to start a meaningful existence within Athens’ momentous ruins. Ripping off, and occasionally seducing, young tourists, Rydal’s quaint lifestyle almost comes off as charming and enriching. However, his daydreams drift off over the horizon towards something more powerful. I may be delving into this a bit too much, for the movie says and does a lot less than it promises. However, alarmingly so, we sit alongside Rydal as he becomes infatuated with wealthy businessperson Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst).

Kirsten Dunst.

It’s in one delectable moment, in which Rydal sees the couple wandering through the Acropolis of Athens, that he halts his ponderous lifestyle and sparks wondrous ideas. After introducing himself, Rydal even begins to picture their holiday schedule. The plot, kicking in shortly after the jaw-dropping opening scenes, takes several turns toward romantic-drama territory. With Rydal’s affection geared increasingly towards Colette, a love triangle begins to sizzle under the European sunlight. Sadly, this laboured start, defined by candle-lit double dates and forced character development, comes close to getting this twisted narrative off on the wrong foot. In fact, the love triangle is sorely under-utilised in this otherwise rich and decadent stand off. Soon enough, thanks to its tight and eloquent screenplay, this keep-you-guessing thriller steers toward its more exciting promises. With Rydal falling into the MacFarland’s sticky situation, the three of them embark on a daring escape from the law. Admittedly, this drama-thriller deserves to be stuck with the most overused and lugubrious of descriptions: Hitchcockian. Attempting to match the master filmmaker’s subtle touch and distinctive visual motifs, director Hossein Amini sticks close to everything we’ve seen countless times before. Despite his best efforts, Amini – having written actioners like Drive and Snow White & The Huntsman – fuses Hitchcock’s deft sensibilities with bombastic action-thriller tropes. Leaving the page for the camera, Amini mistakes a derivative and inconsistent style for resonant, slow-burn storytelling. With its pace more wave-like than Greece’s gold-and-aqua beaches, this drama-thriller becomes mind numbing and predictable well before the second half arrives.

“I’m sorry I disappointed you.” (Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), The Two Faces of January).

Oscar Isaac.

Fortunately, despite the stylistic flaws, The Two Faces of January smuggles several intensifying and immaculate parts into its sleek and pristine suitcase. As a sprawling romance between Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest, the movie tackles its fun premise by delving into its three-character feud. In the spirit of classic Hollywood, this Europe-drenched story pits our well-dressed allies against themselves, gun-toting baddies, and the foreign labyrinth around them. Along the way, several sequences remain dialogue free. Puffing on cigarettes and honour codes, our characters look through one another as the clock ticks down. The tension even reaches breaking point early on, as Chester says of Rydal to Colette: “I wouldn’t trust him to mow my lawn”. Gracefully, this tension-defying conflict, between these three power-starved anti-heroes, boosts the entertainment factor. Certain sequences, in which our characters come close to becoming recognised by security personnel, deliver the most memorable highlights. Indeed, thanks to everyone around him, Amini’s debut has looks to die for. Set against Europe’s most valuable and awe-inspiring cities, the cinematography, sound design, and mis-en-scene deliver something to write home about. Beyond the aesthetic wonders, our three A-listers bounce off this performance piece. Mortensen – known to impress first and attack his own movies later – excels as the relentless antagonist in this vicious concoction. Dunst delivers her most nuanced and likeable performance in a decade as the unpredictable squeeze. Meanwhile, following up his immense success with Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac is a magnetic force as the other side of the coin.

Keeping friends close and enemies closer, The Two Faces of January’s vigorous premise is on par with many of classic Hollywood’s shining lights. If anything, this drama-thriller will be seen as a commendable effort for our three charismatic and dexterous leads. The movie’s compelling visuals and tough-as-nails screenplay deliver several delights hidden around famous landmarks and decrepit streets. However, Amini’s first-time jitters stall an otherwise enlightening thrill-ride. Let’s hope his Hitchockian blues no longer chase him across Tinsel-town.

Verdict: An intensifying yet glacial drama-thriller.