Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe
Dodger Theatricals, David Ian/Michael Watt, Ambassador Theatre Group
Palace Theatre, Manchester
The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has opened its first ever UK tour in Manchester, and with an alternate performer in the lead role, although you wouldn't have known it from his performance.
But then even the understudies have to go through "Frankie Camp" (no, really, this is what they call it) in America to perfect the voice and the moves, so when Tim Driesen, who played Valli in the only foreign language production of the show in the Netherlands (and was interviewed on the BTG podcast), fell ill on press night, Matt Corner was certainly prepared for the role.
When writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice met Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio with a view to creating a show around their songs, the writers asked how the band came to be formed, more as smalltalk than as an idea for the show. The story they told was more interesting than anything they could have made up from the songs, and more interesting than most other jukebox musicals.
These boys grew up in the Italian American blue collar community of New Jersey. Tommy DeVito was the big macho guy who organised both the band and much of the local crime, although for the latter he bowed down to the real big boss, Gyp DeCarlo. Frankie Castelluccio—later changed to Vally then Valli—was the young kid with the amazing voice, and Nick Massi was the quieter member of the trio.
Against the wishes of control freak DeVito, Valli agreed to take songwriter Bob Gaudio into the band, a more intellectual type who quoted Eliot and had some knowledge of the music business having had a hit with "(Who Wears) Short Shorts". Despite their eventual rapid rise to success and world fame, DeVito continued in his old, often criminal, ways, running up huge debts and threatening the future of the band.
This is how it really happened. Or is it? Elice and Brickman's intelligently written book gives each band member a turn at narrating a portion of the story and filling in a few gaps that the others had left. However this isn't a writer showing off how clever he can be; it all works perfectly naturally in the narrative.
Of course the music is important, and this sounds very good indeed, although started to distort just a little when the volume was driven up towards the end. The opening French rap version of "Oh What A Night", to show that the songs were still being reinterpreted and recorded, gives a weak opening, not helped by some weak vocals, but the show quickly picks up from there and becomes a great piece of popular (if not family—there is some strong language and some pretty harsh truths about the band members) entertainment.
The main four of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito are played extremely well by Matt Corner (and hopefully soon again by Tim Driesen, who I did see perform an excerpt from the show at the media launch earlier this year), Sam Ferriday, Lewis Griffiths and Stephen Webb.
The other characters are mostly fleetingly present—particularly the women—but one or two stood out, such as newly-graduated Damian Buhagiar as a very young and enthusiastic Joe Pesci (later to become a famous actor), Matt Gillett as record producer Bob Crewe and Sean Kingsley as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo.
It's a great show with a very interesting real-life story that has had all the stops pulled out to make sure that this first UK tour is as slick and well-performed as the Broadway and West End versions. Definitely worth a look.
Reviewer: David Chadderton