I’ll be honest; until recently, Jersey Boys wasn’t really on my must-see list. Of if it was, it was quite far down (what can I say, it’s a long list). But in recent months, I’ve been hearing more and more often how great it is, so I decided it was time to check it out.
And guess what? It turns out the hype was totally justified! In an era of musicals like Mamma Mia! (Novello Theatre) and We Will Rock You, which shoehorn a band’s songs into a made-up story, Jersey Boys at the Piccadilly Theatre has a refreshing approach: to use the music to actually tell the story of the band itself. Don’t get me wrong - I like the other kind too, but sometimes it’s nice to know where the music came from. And it turns out Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons have a pretty interesting back story, so I was glad I got to hear it, instead of a fictional tale with added songs.
From the moment it starts, Jersey Boys is fast and furious, covering the years from the early 1950s right up to the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. It’s very much ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ stuff, moving slickly from one defining moment to the next. Meanwhile, the clever ‘spring, summer, fall, winter’ structure allows each of the band members to take a turn as Narrator, meaning the audience gets an all-round perspective on what went right - and wrong.
The story is a classic rags to riches tale, chronicling the group’s early struggles on the way to their first hit - but it also continues beyond the height of their success, into a world of drink, debt and loss. In fact, the story gets really quite dark at times; it’s not all catchy tunes and awkwardly humorous dance moves. There’s always the sense that everything could come crashing down at any time, so it’s no great shock when it does exactly that.
The stars of the show - Edd Post, Jon Boydon, Matt Nalton, and Ben Jennings standing in for regular Michael Watson as Frankie - are outstanding. The distinctive sound of the Four Seasons calls for some amazing voices, and the guys don’t disappoint, either individually or as a group. From the up tempo 'Walk Like A Man' to the gentler 'My Eyes Adored You', they’re spot on and genuinely a pleasure to listen to. With a small but versatile supporting cast behind them, the stage is set for a musical triumph.
Which brings me neatly on to the music, which is, after all, the reason we’re all there. Who knew that so many of our best-loved songs were originally hits for the Four Seasons? 'Oh What a Night' (December 1963) and 'Can’t Take My Eyes Off You' were just two of the happy surprises, along with better known hits like 'Big Girls Don’t Cry' and 'Sherry'. By the time the show ended, it was almost a relief to be able to stand up and have a boogie, since I’d been doing it in my seat for most of the evening anyway. I’m not sure I’ll be recreating any of the Jersey Boys’ dance moves any times soon, though.
Jersey Boys is a fantastic show, well worth all the hype and certain to send you off home singing your heart out. Don’t miss it!
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