Jersey Boys

Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe
Dodger Theatricals, Ambassador Theatre Group, Trafalgar Theatre Productions, BB Investments , Pelican Group and Latitude Link
The Opera House, Manchester

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Jersey Boys Credit: Brigit and Ralf Brinkhoff
Jersey Boys Credit: Brigit and Ralf Brinkhoff
Jersey Boys Credit: Brigit and Ralf Brinkhoff
Jersey Boys Credit: Brigit and Ralf Brinkhoff
Jersey Boys Credit: Brigit and Ralf Brinkhoff
Jersey Boys Credit: Brigit and Ralf Brinkhoff

Although Jersey Boys uses the jukebox musical format to tell the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, it is unusual in acknowledging the humble, indeed shady, origins of the group and that not all of them made an equal contribution to their success. It even pokes fun at the diminutive stature of the lead singer whose boast he will be bigger than Sinatra prompts the response, "only if you stand on a chair."

Recollections may vary, so Jersey Boys has two central narrators: Tommy DeVito (Dalton Wood), who starts the group and recruits vocalist Frankie Valli (Ryan Heenan), and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Blair Gibson), who, despite being a hard-headed businessman, forms a lifelong partnership with Valli based on a handshake. Director Des McAnuff polishes the dirt-poor and crime-ridden background from which the group originate into a romantic setting out of Damon Runyon; prison is treated as a hotel with a revolving door so as one person leaves, another enters. Dalton Wood, with a mile-wide cocky smirk, is very much the know-all wise guy introducing the audience to the setting.

In the early 1960s, DeVito, Valli and Nick Massi (Christopher Short) play clubs desperate for a break. Unable to pick a satisfactory name for their group, they find inspiration from a sign outside a well-known hotel chain. DeVito, however, finds it hard when the leadership of the group shifts away from him as the composing skills of new recruit Bob Gaudio help them finally find success. DeVito’s resentment pushes him into reckless behaviour putting him at risk of violent reprisals from gangsters. Frankie Valli, however, refuses to desert a friend from the old neighbourhood.

Despite moments of tragedy, authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice keep the tone light. All members of the group, except oddly Valli, are given a chance to tell their side of the story with humour and resignation. Even Christopher Short’s Nick Massi, the self-acknowledged Ringo of the group, is allowed some dignity. The script is also full of fascinating detail including that Oscar-winning actor Joe Pesci came from the same neighbourhood as the group.

The set by Klara Zieglerova is a basic wire and steel construction resembling the fire escapes outside tenement buildings with a rear screen upon which Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoons are projected. But the set is largely irrelevant as the time and place is established by the cast, immaculately tailored by Jess Goldstein, gliding and strutting around the stage. The cast constantly strike poses finger-clicking and toe-tapping. It is a romantic image of the period as one might wish it had been.

Director Des McAnuff is a tease. A fair part of the first act passes before any of the well-known hits are sung then three are performed one after the other. The staging is audacious with the cast occasionally singing in profile and the opening of a sublime version of "My Eyes Adored You" is sung by Ryan Heenan with his back to the audience.

It is a very strong cast, but Ryan Heenan’s supernatural falsetto steals the show. Heenan shows Valli’s development from callow youth to someone confident enough to challenge a roomful of gangsters. It is also a highly physical performance combining astonishing vocals with the trouser-splitting dance moves of James Brown.

Oh, what a night…

Reviewer: David Cunningham