Review: Jersey Boys (Piccadilly Theatre, London)

What’s it about?

The rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It documents their early life in Jersey, finding their feet and each other as they fought to get noticed in the music business, and then the eventual divisions within the group as scandal and vices took over. While much of the story focuses on Valli and his own personal problems, including his family life, this is really about the whole group, spending time looking at Tommy De Vito’s money laundering, Nick Massi’s response to being in the back seat and Bob Gaudio’s songwriting.

The words…

The story spans a huge period of time, charting the years from the early conception of the group in 1963 up to their induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Marshall Brickman and Rick Ellis’s book works incredibly well to cover off so much, pulling out key moments from the years between those dates without it feeling overly rushed. While the majority of the show focuses on the early years of the group, it never feels as though it’s on fast forward to get to the next key moment. Time is spent exploring choice points in the group’s history, while others are covered with scenes that play out almost like montages.

I was a little worried going into it that this would feel like Jersey Boys on stage, rather than being as natural – more Bugsy Malone than Goodfellas. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. There’s an inevitability that there will be a certain campness (this is a musical, after all), but the book does a good job of making it feel like part of the neighbourhood from which it grew.

The talent…

For the most part this is a really strong cast. While there were a number of supporting roles that felt a bit stagey, the central four did an incredible job. With this being a Saturday matinee, Sandy Moffat was on as Frankie Valli. His voice was very strong, with just the right tone for the role (while this was my first trip to see the show, I’ve seen clips of others ramping up the higher pitch too much), and he manages to play both the boyish Valli and the older years convincingly. Jon Boydon as Tommy De Vito (now in his 6th year in the role) is both loathsome and endearing. Gary Watson does a great job of playing Nick Massi as the loveable underdog without turning him into a clown-like figure. And, in my opinion, Edd Post is the standout as Bob Gaudio, showing the journey from shy boy songwriter to confident business man perfectly. But ultimately the clue is in the name, and it’s when the four come together that it all works best.

The music…

There was never any doubt that the music would be strong. You know exactly what to expect going into the theatre, as with any jukebox show. But this is jukebox at its best and the story integrates well with the songs, unlike in many similar shows. Director Des McAnuff does a great job of bringing in the songs at relevant points, so that while they never feel wedged into the story, the right songs are used at the right moments to help support the narrative. The arrangements and orchestration of the songs by Ron Melrose and Steve Orich are also spot on, with many of them playing more to the theatrical space – backing vocals and the supporting cast adding a new dimension that wasn’t on the original Four Seasons tracks. Slight criticism in that I felt there needed to be more of the stronger songs in the second half, but by the end the audience were on their feet so overall it was a great balance.

The design…

The set design by Klara Zieglerova is my one issue with the show. While structurally it’s functional and fits the tone of the show well, with a metal frame that’s generic enough to suit all the action, the constant rolling on and off of set pieces became irritating. Particularly in the scenes that went by quickly, there was barely a minute without a table, set of chairs or car seats being rolled onto the stage and then hurriedly off again. Although they were being used to set the scene, it meant that none of the scene transitions within the show were handled very smoothly because all you could hear was the the wheels of different props on the stage floor – either more use of floor tracks or abandoning the often pointless set pieces for a cleverer use of lighting would both have been less distracting.

The special mention…

This has to go to the four leads, who when they came together to perform as the Four Seasons – particularly for the first time within act one – were spot on. They had the audience in their hands, and almost managed to transport 1200 people back in time for a few moments.

Verdict: ★★★★☆

A cracking cast, a well told story and music that makes the 60s feels like modern day. This is an incredibly strong musical that is very deserving of its long run, and only slightly let down by some poor staging. I’m pleased I finally got around to giving it a go.

Jersey Boys is playing at the Piccadilly Theatre and is currently booking through to October 2016. Tickets can be purchased from the ATG Tickets site here.

And the view…

Stalls, row E, seat 3. This really can’t be complained about. The staircase to stage left was slightly intrusive, but that it really wasn’t a problem at all because it costs £20 less than the seat to the left it and virtually no action was missed as a result. It was also fairly comfortable with an OK seat and decent amount of legroom. Yes, I may have moved seats at the interval to a more central spot, but I would happily sit here again.

Piccadilly Theatre, Stalls row E seat 3
Piccadilly Theatre, Stalls row E seat 3
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