Jersey Boys – Bord Gais Energy Theatre – Review by Frank L.
Until March 13th
Jersey Boys – Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice directed by Des McAnuff
This is a trip down memory lane to the world of New Jersey in the late fifties, into the sixties and beyond. It is the story of four guys of Italian parentage, Frankie Valli, Tommy de Vito, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi who came together as a quartet of musicians and singers, who after many false starts, became famous as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Gaudio wrote their material along with Bob Crewe as lyricist with Guadio having a facility to write catchy tunes – Oh What a Night, Big Girls Don’t Cry- and they made it big time. However, it was not without a lot of friction and pain arising between them with criminal behaviour, the “ponies” and the tax man not too distant.
This show seeks to tell their overall story from the perspective of each one of them. Taking its cue from their stage name it also uses Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter to track the trajectory of their careers. It is extremely slick with a stage consisting of two metal spiral staircases at each side of the stage joined by a metal gantry. Around this simple structure the various scenes take place with great rapidity and the conversations between the guys and the women who enter their lives move at an even more rapid clip.
In the production there is a fine attention to detail. There is a backdrop of the New Jersey sky line that recurs throughout. It provides ambience. My companion on the night, who hails from neighbouring Long Island, was delighted to see an armchair with a floral pattern covered with plastic! An Italian family who lived close to where he grew up had their good chairs similarly protected. The script too has some fine moments as in an excellent conversation between young Frankie and a more knowing Italian female friend as he chooses a stage name. She explains the importance of the name, because he is Italian, ending in a vowel and the way she chooses to illustrate the fact is a delight. Similarly, the inspiration for the song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” has an unlikely pedigree where one of Hollywood’s most masculine of stars is given the credit. This all adds a certain validation to what is a roller coaster through the Four Seasons repertoire with over thirty of their songs being performed in whole or in part.
Frankie Valli’s voice in real life was unique and had an enormous vocal range with a fine falsetto. Because of its uniqueness any actor seeking to portray him has an impossible challenge. Michael Watson’s more nasal voice is inevitably different, without the range, but that does not prevent him from capturing much of the essence of the original Valli. Simon Bailey, Declan Egan and Lewis Griffiths play the other three and as there is not a preconception as to what each of them individually sounded like comparisons to the originals do not arise. All four put their heart and soul into their performances and create a participative atmosphere with some members of the audience, with hands raised, clapping along to the music, happily transported by the sound. Phoebe May Newman, Amy Thiroff and Tara Young play a multiplicity of female roles throughout the show with an energetic efficiency. But this is a show unashamedly about the Jersey Boys.
It is a night for those who are enthusiasts of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Let it carry you along with all the passion of four young men wishing to find fame and fortune even though a large part of their story is littered with their ability to screw things up. While there was nothing innocent about any of them there is a certain nostalgia for what seems now a more innocent time. Whether it was or was not is not that important; what the show does is it leaves the audience in a good mood and that is what Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons set out to do, to entertain their audience.