Jersey Boys

Feb 21 2019 | By More

★★★★☆     Jersey royal

Playhouse: Tue 19 Feb – Sat 2 Mar 2019
Review by Martin Gray

Never mind your eyes, your ears will adore the tour of Jersey Boys which has arrived at the Edinburgh Playhouse for a fortnight turn.

‘You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.’ That’s the line at the heart of this musical biography of legendary US pop group the Four Seasons. Sure, Frankie Valli, with his soaring falsetto, is the guy everyone can name, but Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi were important too.

A scene from Jersey Boys. Pic: Brinkhoff:Mögenburg

That’s how Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s script plays out, with each of the boys taking a turn narrating.

We start in Spring with Tommy, who ran a doo-wop group which went under a new name pretty much every week, but only began to really come together when trainee barber Frankie Castelluccio joined him and Massi.

Tommy’s brother Nick was theoretically the third member, but usually in prison, and after Bob Gaudio, who had written a number one while still a teenager, joined up, The Four Seasons were born.

Tommy got the gigs, Frankie – rechristened Valli, for marquee-friendly reasons – hit the high notes, Gaudio provided new songs and Massi brought the bass notes and arrangements. Soon they were on their way to the top, netting three Billboard number ones in a row – but these were Italian-Americans from New Jersey, where everyone knew a goodfella, and drama followed them around…

narrative baton

The device of splitting the storytelling into four seasons, with the narrative baton passing from Tommy to Bob, Nick and finally Frankie, is a clever peg on which to structure this superior jukebox musical.

A scene from Jersey Boys. Pic: Brinkhoff:Mögenburg

Each member takes over the story at the logical point for their character, engaging our sympathies (or not) as the band is born, finds success and eventually implodes. The story doesn’t end when the Four Seasons are whittled down to one, with new members joining Frankie as we follow his dramatic journey.

And all the way through Des McAnuff’s production we get those glorious songs – (December 1963) Oh What a Night, Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, My Eyes Adored You and so many more. All wonderfully sung by a cast able to imbue them with an emotional heft they rarely have as standalone tunes.

Simon Bailey, Michael Watson, Lewis Griffiths and Declan Egan are uniformly terrific as, respectively, Tommy, Frankie, Nick and Bob, their friendships waxing and waning over time, but never ending – because they’re Jersey Boys and, cliched as it sounds, they’re family.

The core cast sells the idea with real heart, their acting chops as strong as their voices – and these are men who know how to sing.

never a bad moment

While one or two numbers aren’t quite as strong as usual – Beggin’ peters out as the gang cross the catwalk over which people tend to exit the show, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You isn’t quite the usual showstopper – there is never a bad moment. Whether they are being asked to make us laugh or break our hearts, Egan, Griffiths. Watson and Bailey hit the right dramatic notes.

A scene from Jersey Boys. Pic: Brinkhoff:Mögenburg

They are supported by a very adaptable ensemble, with Joel Elferink and Arnold Mabhena getting to do a bit of scene stealing as record producer Bob Crewe (whose role co-writing many of the band’s hits is pretty much ignored), an autograph-hunting cop and several others. All the ladies and gents more than earned their wages, though, signing, dancing, playing instruments and generally keeping things moving.

MD Francis Goodhand’s real-life band provide excellent accompaniment throughout, with drummer Samuel Firsht deserving a special nod for being on stage almost throughout, playing superbly… but ever in the dark.

Ron Melrose’s vocal arrangements are winners. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is a joy, giving the old routines new life and, bar a few sub-Lichtenstein backdrops, Klara Zieglerova’s set works well. As for Jess Goldstein’s costumes, well, where do I buy a second-hand sparkling tux once the show is over?

Jersey Boys isn’t around for one season, never mind four, just a couple of weeks – so catch it while you can.

Running time: two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval).
Edinburgh Playhouse 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014
Tuesday 19 February – Saturday 2 March 2019
Evenings Mon – Sat: 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs/Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Jersey Boys on tour:
19 Feb – 2 Mar 2019 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
6 – 16 Mar 2019 Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
19 – 30 Mar 2019 Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online

A scene from Jersey Boys. Pic: Brinkhoff:Mögenburg


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