What do you get when you mix mob debts, an impressive lead falsetto, and rhinestone-covered lapels? It can only be the remarkable rise, and chaotic fall, of the Jersey Boys.
Harking back to a golden age where boyband’s dance moves were just as snappy as their suits (oh, where have we gone wrong!), what may surprise anyone other than diehard fans is the grit, determination, and trouble these four young guys encountered in their pursuit of fame and fortune.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is the (final) name that stuck for a group of young men from Jersey, who combined remarkable musical talent with a penchant for crime, gambling, and generally getting up to no good. To take what – to modern audiences – can sometimes seem as out of touch music and place it in such incongruous context is the work of writes Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, who developed the show in conversation with three of the four band members.
Judging by the humming echo filtering through the seats, many of those attending the show are definite fans the group, with certain patrons impelled to their feet to jig in the aisles. But even if you’re unfamiliar with some of the back catalogue, Frankie Valli’s iconic voice – portrayed with incredible skill by Ryan Heenan – is unmistakeable. Heenan also captures the complexity of Frankie, as he battles against big egos, huge ambition, and plenty of competition.
Dialect coach Charley Layton must be praised for that Jersey drawl, which oozed charm and cheek. Dalton Wood’s Tommy DeVito was particularly suave, but with a hint of the heart beneath it all, if his somewhat good intentions often led to bad outcomes.
Mild-mannered Bob Gaudio – the composing prodigy who was the Four Seasons’ principal song writer – was well balanced by Blair Gibson, with his telling of ‘that night’ in December 1963 having surprisingly more sweetness than you may assume from the subject matter.
The fourth founding member of the Seasons, Nick Massi, felt like the quiet anchor behind them all, as Christopher Short showed him to be ever-present yet never quite in the forefront. But without Massi, there could be no real depth, and Short delivered a presence even with few words to share.
What worked well throughout, was the authenticity of the characters that didn’t break into caricature – in particular mob boss Gyp DeCarlo (Matthew Lawrence) who, for all his questionable morals elsewhere, genuinely wanted to see the boys succeed.
In a production that it could be argued is be less about the music itself than where the music came from, the set was cleverly designed by Klara Zieglerova to be unfussy but practical, with projection by Michael Clark providing context – and in occasions humour with Lictenstein-esque graphics, adding dynamic without overwhelming either the story or the numbers.
With a classic jukebox style that weaved the songs in between the dialogue, this sometimes stranger-than-fiction tale of four guys’ success has humour, heartbreak, and of course a host of timeless hits that’ll have you Beggin’ for an encore.
Review written for Matinee Radio