Sheffield Lyceum – until 30 June
Reviewed by: Lottie Davis-Browne
It’s hard to believe that “Jersey Boys” – a jukebox musical done in documentary style, is thirteen years old, yet it feels as fresh as when it first opened in the West End in 2008, following a successful run on Broadway. The story of four young lads from the wrong side of the tracks who found fame and fortune in a true life rags-to-riches tale.
With music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, Jersey Boys, in a documentary style, dramatises the formation, success and eventual break-up of the 1960s rock n roll group The Four Seasons.
The story opens with the song “Ces’ Soirées-lå – a modern pop/rap song released in 2000, introduced by Tommy DeVito (Simon Bailey), whom after introducing himself explains “That’s our song” – a cover of The Four Seasons hit “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night), the song he claims put Jersey “on the map”. Tommy goes on to explain that it was himself who formed the band, along with brother Nick DeVito (who didn’t last long as a band member, after landing himself in jail) plus friend Nick Massi – performing as trio “The Variety Trio” before discovering teenager Frankie Castelluccio, taking him under his wing, teaching him everything he knew and producing hit after hit.
Starting in Spring the story moves through the four seasons, each season being narrated by a different band member who gives their own perspective of the bands history. It highlights their highs and lows – from their rise to fame and making it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to stints in prison, and the tragic death of Frankie’s daughter Francine.
Admittedly the first couple of times I saw Jersey Boys, I failed to warm to it, mainly struggling with the format and the often fast paced dialogue. But this evening I went with a different perspective, erasing previous experiences, excited at the return of cast member Lewis Griffiths in the role of Nick Massi and the prospect of hearing the many classics by The Four Seasons. Where I have usually failed to connect or “get” any of the characters before, this evening it didn’t take long for me to warm to the four main characters, and where in the past I have switched off during the dialogue, tonight was the first time that didn’t happen and I was gripped from start to finish. Finally this penultimate cast have turned my loathing of Jersey Boys to absolutely loving! I entered in anticipation but left the theatre grinning from ear to ear, the music firmly stuck in my head the following 24 hours.
Inevitably it is Frankie Valli who became the most popular band member probably due to his short stature and high-pitched voice. Michael Watson certainly did not fail on this part tonight – flawlessly hitting all those super high notes. He plays homage to those difficult to reach trousers-too-tight notes in iconic songs such as “Walk Like a Man”, “Beggin’”, “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. Simon Bailey was show stealer for me this evening, perfectly portraying the somewhat arrogant over confident guy who saw potential in Frankie but later went on to fall out with and was noted as unbearable roommate in hotels for allegedly urinating in the sink. Equally all four lead men gave faultless outstanding performance but it was Simon’s character I warmed to the quickest. The stage set remains pretty much the same as previous productions of the tour and West End shows, with a live band on stage and an industrial feel to it with metal “cages” and a bridge which work flawlessly to create a variety of settings from The Silhouette Club where the guys perform to hotel rooms and recording studios. The costumes remain the same, with the iconic red blazers – the outfits used in various promotional shots for the production.
Michael Watson absolutely smashed it in the leading role of Frankie Valli, by far my favourite actor to perform this diverse and challenging role. The ticket sales and audience reaction prove that this show will be around for decades to come, and for once I can honestly say I cannot wait to return to New Jersey, I’m practically beggin’ for another instalment from The Four Seasons!