“I’m actually blown away”, a theatre-goer divulged to his companion during the interval break. “It’s a really great comedy” said another, “and so well put together!”. Half way in, Jersey Boys had already received glowing reviews from its audience at the Manchester Palace Theatre on the 30th January. As a show that centres around the multi-million record-selling pop group of the 60’s and 70’s, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, everyone knew the award-winning production would be entertaining, but Bob Gaudio, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s Jersey Boys surpassed expectations in every way. It had us singing along, gasping at tense scenes and shocking twists, and above all, laughing consistently; a testimony of a show that has truly captivated its audience.
Cleverly chronicling the band’s journey from each of the four boy’s perspectives, founding member of the Four Seasons, Tommy DeVito, is the first to play narrator. He journeys back to the beginning where he drags a young and timid teenage Frankie Valli (then Castelluccio) on stage for the first time to sing with him and his brother Nick DeVito. With a rendition of “Silhouettes” by The Rays, we’re quickly introduced to Michael Watson’s impressive vocal range; a range successfully able to evoke the distinctive and unforgettable falsetto of Valli.
Many timeless classics such as ‘Sherrie’, ‘Walk Like A Man’, ‘Beggin’’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ are masterfully tackled by Watson, Peter Nash (Tommy DeVito), Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) and Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan) as we live through the band’s journey to stardom. From the outside, The Four Seasons appeared to have gone from hit-to-hit, but Jersey Boys unveils the hidden story that circulated around securing record labels, fallings out, personal loss and DeVito’s debt that left Valli and Gaudo paying off thousands for years.
The story unfolds like a novel, using rich description and multiple perspectives to build up the leading characters, intercepted with quips and musical numbers along the way. The cast fulfilled their roles with the swagger of New Jersey; thick accents, sharp suits, and a running doctrine that the music comes before anything else. Much like the ‘Seasons’, each had their own individual peculiarities. DeVito had a Godfather-esque quality; the man about town who proudly takes care of business, Massi is the loyal friend who becomes disheartened in the group – describing himself as the ‘Ringo’ of the band, Gaudo is slightly sharper, deeply ambitious and gifted in writing music, and Valli is the star who’s secretly a tortured-soul. There’s also a handful of supporting roles worth mentioning that contributed to the supreme casting of the Jersey Boys UK tour, including Joel Elferink as producer ‘Bob Crewe’, Tara Young as ‘Mary Delgado’ and James Alexander Gibbs as the Academy Award-winning actor ‘Joe Pesci’ who introduced the group to Gaudo in real life.
The two hour plus performance captures the band’s career spanning decades. Through careful and majestically smooth switching up of sets, the stage mutates into bars, city streets, the inside of a car, jails, recording studios and more quickly, while characters remain on stage. There’s no long pauses, and everything moves swiftly on to the next, creating a not only engaging show, but one that’s visually stimulating too. The pop art images and black and white TV footage projected on a screen subtly elicit the musical era of the 50s, 60s and 70s, while the juxtapositioning also reminds the audience of the ‘behind-the-scenes’, documentary-style nature of the show. In one scene, the band are performing with their backs to the audience to give the illusion we’re with them backstage.
A well-developed storyline, the maturing of characters throughout the plot, the ingenious depiction of roles, effective and intelligent set design and the on-point repertoires of the group’s smash hit singles; Jersey Boys is deserving of its audiences’ praise and rightfully occupying the Palace Theatre in Manchester until 16th February.