Since premiering in 2004 Jersey Boys has won 57 major awards across the world, including Best New Musical at Broadway’s Tony, London’s Olivier and Australia’s Helpmann Awards.
Add to that an audience worldwide of more than 25 million and you start to get the picture – this is no ordinary jukebox musical.
Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice spent hours with the real men behind the wild stories, merging their recollections to tell the previously unheard true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, using the band’s catchy hits as a backdrop to chart their journey from the back streets of New Jersey to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame heroes.
We all love a rags to riches tale, and this one has so much action along the way. It is clear to see why in their 1960s heyday the band’s clean cut, blazer-clad images wouldn’t have stood up to revelation of what has since emerged. There’s gang crime, links to the mob, gambling, prostitution, family breakdown, drugs, tragedy, and at its core a fiercely-held belief in New Jersey loyalty. As Nick Massi wryly comments: “Sell 100 million records and see how you handle it”.
Alongside this drama is a rapid rise to fame with a string of hits including: Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, My Eyes Adored You, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Working My Way Back to You, and Rag Doll.
This UK touring production keeps the original staging of original Broadway creative team. A base of multi-layered steel platforms, overlaid with multi-media filming, making for slick scene changes and impressive concert scenes.
However, even such solid foundations could falter without a strong cast to bring the characters to life. Michael Watson leads with a powerhouse performance as Frankie Valli, growing convincingly from the nerdy 16-year-old in baggy jeans to confident, slick-suited superstar; making us believe in and feel for Valli as a superstar singer with a soaring falsetto voice as well as a human being with all his vulnerabilities and flaws.
But this is by no means a one-man show, and much of its strength comes from the rich depth with which all four band members are drawn. Lewis Griffiths as bass-player Nick Massi has a voice as deep as Valli’s is high, bringing relatable humanity and humour to a figure who could easily be cast into the shadows. Peter Nash hits the perfect pitch as wide-boy guitarist, Tommy DeVito; while Declan Egan captures the relative innocence of young whizz-kid songwriter and keyboardist, Bob Gaudio.
When the four take to the stage concert-style, the audience erupts as if seeing the real thing and the atmosphere is electric.
Joel Elferink deserves special mention as producer-songwriter Bob Crewe – a versatile performer who we could imagine switching to a mobster in the blink of an eye. And James Alexander Gibbs makes a memorable impression as a young Oscar-winner, Joe Pesci.
There is so much richness in this show, it’s easy to see why audiences come back over and over again. This UK Tour is as good as it ever was. If you’ve not seen it before, go. If you have seen it before, go back. It has all the drama of Hollywood wrapped in constant stream of nostalgic, uplifting hits. It’s terrific.★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jersey Boys UK Tour is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 29 January to 16 February 2019. See website for full tour details.