Oh, what a night…
Mid-September here in twenty-two
What a very special time for you
As I remember, what a night.
What a night indeed! Jersey Boys is a one-of-a-kind musical that fuses multiple narrations with fast paced transitions, flawless harmony and tight choreography…and not forgetting over 30 tracks (albeit some are truncated for time purposes no doubt) from The Four Seasons back catalogue. This is a juke box musical, but make no mistake, the story hasn’t been written to make tenuous links between songs in order to a force a narrative, this is the story of four men creating timeless music, and where the music is central to the chronology.
Of all the ways I expected Jersey Boys to open, it was not with modern-day rap – I even questioned if I was in the wrong theatre, but as the backward-capped, gold-chained adorned youth rapped the words of “December 1963 (Oh, What a night)”, the message becomes clear before we’ve even met The Four Seasons: their legacy lives on. In this way, our fab four Frankie Valli (Michael Pickering), Tommy Devito (Dalton Wood), Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) and Bob Gaudio (Blair Gibson) enter the stage with the audience already understanding their impact. The street dance moves of the ensemble are replaced with four suited and stiff singers from the mean streets of New Jersey and our story begins.
Tommy Devito is the first actor to take the story-telling reins, explaining the very beginnings of the band directly to the audience. With his thick Jersey accent, Tommy is a chancer and a dreamer, and Wood plays the part with enough cheek and charm that the audience warms to his character – everyone loves an underdog, right? Oh, we know that there is something more sinister to Tommy with his links to the mob and his boyish grin that hides the truth, but his character is very likeable, if a little untrustworthy, and this is perhaps largely down to the fact that Tommy, as with the rest of the band, are unreliable narrators, telling their own truth with their own biases, which just adds to the fun. Wood is slick in transitioning from front of stage exposition to triplet or quartet formation, but unfortunately, due to some sound issues, some of the narrative is lost with the audience straining to decipher his words.
It is Tommy who introduces Frankie Valli to the band, and somewhat takes him under his wing. A shy and assuming kid, Frankie doesn’t know his talent but grows into a leader, eventually turning on his mentor for the good of the band. Pickering takes the character of Frankie on a journey to maturity and the changes are so subtle, that you don’t even noticed them until Frankie stands his ground against Tommy, going from innocent child to angry, desperate and powerful…and walking like my man, my son.
Bob Gaudio is the missing piece of this four-piece jigsaw, and it’s only when he joins the group that The Four Seasons hit the dizzying heights of fame. Gaudio, along with Bob Crewe (Michael Levi) are responsible for writing and producing the songs for which The Four Seasons are famous. Gaudio is different to the rest and has a naivety and sweetness which gives a direct contrast to Tommy Devito. Gibson is warm is this role and Gaudio’s relationship with and belief in Frankie is heart-warming.
My absolute favourite character is Nick Massi. The oh so cool, staid and serious bass playing, bass singer seems initially to be somewhat of a background character, but he is gradually brought to the fore with his comedy and Griffiths’ sheer enjoyment of being on the stage shines through. He’s awkward and wooden, but watch him come to life when there’s a bass in his hands and he’s part of the group. There’s an expectant shift in the audience as Nick takes over the narrative – whatever he says, you just know it’s going to be good.
When these four singers come together for the first time, and sing their first harmony, it is somewhat magical. Imitating Frankie Vallli’s signature sound, Pickering is faultless as the band give the audience what they want with renditions of “Sherry”, “Big Girl’s Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man” to name a few. Special mention also goes to Griffiths’ deep bass singing voice. “My Eyes Adore You” is just full of emotion, starting as a duet between Frankie and his wife Mary Delgado (Emma Crossley), who is gradually replaced by the rest of the band, as one family ends, and another is cemented. “Begging” is haunting and atmospheric, with an obvious tension as the cracks begin to show and “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” is a real crowd pleaser as the horns take to the stage and Frankie takes centre stage. There are times when the performance almost feels like an immersive experience as we become the audience to which The Four Seasons are performing. The talent of the four is such that it is difficult to work out if the reaction of The Four Seasons to the applause is that of four singers or that of four actors playing the role of four singers. Either way, their reaction makes the audience feel appreciated which only adds to the atmosphere of the auditorium as the audience applaud and whoop with more ferocity.
One of the stand out parts of this show is the set design (Klara Zieglerova) and the flexibility of the staging which, with the addition of a few props (that come flying in from all directions with real speed and precision) can be anything from a bedroom to a prison communal toilet. The projection (Michael Clark) is also used incredibly well to show time and location, making excellent use of the pop art of the era. Working alongside these, the lighting design (Howell Binkley) is colourful and sharp which works to highlight the beautiful use of shadow and silhouette.
Costume (Jess Goldstein) and wig design (Charles G. Lapointe) are also on point. We would expect the sharp suits for the main four, but at the bows, I was shocked to discover only three females in the cast. Emma Crossley, Ellie Seaton and Daisy Steere play multiple roles in this production, which is disguised incredibly well by costume and wig, along with the actress’s ability to portray such a diverse range of characters on what is an incredible busy stage, especially at the points of transition, where set changes are somewhat hidden by the action on stage.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable telling of the highs and lows of The Four Seasons as they are inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. I would recommend working your way back to the Royal Concert Hall before Saturday 24 September to immerse yourself in a multi-award-winning production that has been enjoyed by over 27 million people worldwide. I’m beggin’ you…