Review: The Jersey Boys

Presented by Rodney Rigby, Dainty Group, and others
Reviewed Saturday 27th October 2012

This is the latest in the juke box musical genre to reach Adelaide, preceded by shows such as Buddy, the Buddy Holly story, and Dusty, the story of Dusty Springfield. The concept is simple; take a string of best known hit songs and link them together with a docudrama, highlighting various significant points in their personal lives and careers. This one, although it tells us quite a bit about the others in the group and is told in four sections, each from the point of view of one of the members, it focuses mostly on the lead singer with the strong falsetto voice, Frankie Valli. The other members of The Four Seasons are hardly pushed into the background, though. We learn much about them as well but it does tend to see them in their relationship to Valli.

This multi award winning production was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. The music and lyrics were by band member, Bob Gaudio, and record producer Bob Crewe. Tony Award winner Des McAnuff directed the work, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and they keep up a fast pace to fill the performance with plenty of energy and excitement.

Frankie Valli was born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio on 3rd May, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey. This was a rough neighbourhood and, if you walked around armed for safety, your protection was probably against the likes of this young man and his friends. This production hides none of that, neither the robberies, and other misdemeanours, nor the prison sentences of members of the group, their family members, and friends. Prison was merely a work hazard for them. The heads of the criminal fraternity are there, too: one a friend trying to help, another wanting his money from one of the band. Chased and hassled by the mob, and by the police, they still managed to keep the group, together, tour extensively, and record a string of hits.

They may have had four members, been around in the sixties, had a number of hits, and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, but any resemblance between them and the clean cut Liverpool group, The Beatles, ends there. Even the bad boy image of the Rolling Stones was nothing compared to the reality of the lives of The Four Seasons, and many of those in their neighbourhood. In spite of all of the disadvantages that they faced, and the obstacles in their way, they persevered and succeeded. The band eventually folded through internal conflicts, both personal and monetary, and Valli formed a new group as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He later went on to also have a solo career. Ironically, although they had tried a sting of names for the band before settling on The Four Seasons, that name was then retained, even though the only original member after the break-up was Valli.

The permanent part of the set comprises a half turn spiral staircase downstage to one side and a conventional staircase upstage on the other, the two joined by a raised, ‘L’ shaped gantry. This serves as a constant reminder of prison and of the lives and pasts of the band members. The set is subjected to constant change, with screens being flown in and out, projections added, furniture being set and struck with great speed, and the drum kit being trucked around the stage as though it had a life of its own.

Their background is part of the reason why, in spite of their success, the major record companies never got behind them and promoted them as much as they could have done. They also took control of their own careers, which meant that record companies could not resort to devious means to make more out of them, at their expense.

Jeff Madden as Frankie Valli, Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio, Anthony Harkin as Tommy DeVito, and Glaston Toft as Nick Massi, are The Four Seasons and together they recreate the sound of the group superbly, getting feet tapping throughout the auditorium. Nick DeVito was to have been a member, but was sent to jail and so Gaudio joined the band to replace him, introduced to the others by the actor, Joe Pesci. Gaudio had already written hit songs and now became the composer for the band, with lyrics provided by Bob Crewe. Michael Griffiths plays Crewe, who was not just their lyric writer but also a successful music promoter and record producer.

Although the story tying the songs together is a very important part of this production, it is the music that is central to the success of the whole performance. The orchestra, under musical director, Michael Azzopardi, playing one of the three keyboards, do an excellent job of recreating the music, with several members of the orchestra also providing vocals. They provide a solid musical foundation for the four performers on stage, with Madden providing that essential falsetto and the other three adding some great vocal harmonies on such familiar numbers as Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Oh, What A Night, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Earth Angel, and others, as well as My Boyfriend’s Back, sung by The Angels who toured with them. Lisa Adam, Michelle Smitheram, and Kat Hoyos, play The Angels, as well as all of the other women in the show.

This production differs from some of the other juke box musicals, though, in the fact that the content is often dark, and so the acting cannot be taken lightly. The four principals, Jeff Madden, Declan Egan, Anthony Harkin, and Glaston Toft, create powerful and convincing characters, and their relationships, often volatile, are wholly believable. It does not stop there, however, but continues through every character in the production with some fine acting from the entire cast. Naturally, they are all excellent singers as well, and the production is not devoid of some good footwork at times.

The opening night audience showed their appreciation in no uncertain terms and the only complaint that I heard, or more correctly, a compliment, that came by way of a passing couple in the foyer, was that there was no dance floor, because the music made them want to get up and dance, as they had done in the 1960s.

The Jersey Boys are in town for a month or so, but don’t wait too long to book your tickets as there are people already saying they are going back to see it again.

Note: This musical is not recommended for children under the age of 12 due to strong ’authentic Jersey’ language. Herbal cigarettes are smoked on stage.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

Production web site

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to 2nd December, 2012
Duration: 2hr 35mins (intvl 20mins)
Tickets: adult $85-125
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or online here

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