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.
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.
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)
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.