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Jersey Boys at Trafalgar Theatre | Review

The Butlins-style redcoat jackets may still be on the front cover of the programme, but they are nowhere to be seen in this revival of Jersey Boys. Even in its previous West End incarnation they only featured briefly. I was also reminded of the parody lyrics in the musical revue Forbidden Broadway: “Walk like a man, sing like a girl / You’ll soar to number one / Falsetto pitch, is such a bitch / Helium helps, my son”. Otherwise, the show has returned to the London stage in more or less the same way as presented before. It could even be argued that there might have been a lost opportunity to reimagine the show a little more.

LtoR Karl James Wilson, Ben Joyce, Adam Bailey, Benjamin Yates in Jersey Boys credit Mark Senior.
LtoR Karl James Wilson, Ben Joyce, Adam Bailey, Benjamin Yates in Jersey Boys credit Mark Senior.

There is a little too much ‘armography’ in Sergio Trujillo’s choreography, which is otherwise energetic. This being the story of the rock band ‘Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’, itself a slightly incongruous title on account of Valli being one of the four (that is, it is not a five-piece group), the production’s sound does well to portray the echoey sounds of a rock gig, without being uncomfortably too loud for theatre patrons.

There are no weak links to report in this cast, and as ever, the four Italian-American lads from New Jersey share the role of narrator, providing different perspectives on events in the life of the band. I don’t have a problem with strong language (for f—k’s sake, I love The Book of Mormon) but there is simply too much in this show, in the sense that it is not wholly commensurate with the way in which people spoke at the time, even for the likes of the hard-nosed Tommy DeVito (a thoroughly convincing Benjamin Yates).

The New Jersey accents are, I am reliably informed, perfectly executed. But there’s a lot of on-stage non-guitar playing, by which I mean that the actors’ fingers appear to be strumming away, but unless they are all consistently playing one chord – and listening to the guitar sounds, this was very unlikely to have been the case – they might as well have been playing air guitar. There is, mind you, plenty to praise, with the show’s actual orchestra, led by Katy Richardson, gliding through a varied range of musical numbers with skill and precision.

It feels like a play with songs rather than a musical on occasion, with the spoken narrative cutting into truncated versions of tunes from The Four Seasons’ back catalogue. It’s a show that proceeds briskly: it has to, telling the story of lengthy entertainment careers in two and a half hours. Good use of video technology is made, and the staging, on two levels, makes excellent use of the available performance space.

Adam Bailey has a likeable boy-next-door quality as composer Bob Gaudio, and the dulcet tones of Karl James Wilson as Nick Massi are warm and engaging. In the end, however, the evening belongs to Ben Joyce, making his West End stage debut as Frankie Valli, hitting the high notes perfectly, and moving around the stage with flair and confidence. Joyce was visibly moved by the press night reaction to his second-half rendering of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, as though the audience had effectively sung the lyric “You’re just too good to be true” back at him.

In an era of ‘fake news’ and much distrust, it’s refreshing to come across a story that doesn’t sugar-coat the failures and shortcomings of the show’s characters. Jersey Boys has an enduring appeal, with an accessible plotline, a decent amount of humour, and an array of familiar songs. “Oh, what a night!

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Go behind the music and inside the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the Tony and Olivier Award-winning, true-life phenomenon, JERSEY BOYS. They were just four guys from New Jersey, until they sang their very first note. They had a sound nobody had ever heard… and the radio just couldn’t get enough of. But while their harmonies were perfect onstage, off stage it was a very different story—a story that has made them an international sensation all over again. From the streets of New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this is the musical that’s too good to be true. The show is packed with their hits, including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, My Eyes Adored You, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Working My Way Back to You, Fallen Angel, Rag Doll and Who Loves You.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
Trafalgar Theatre
14 Whitehall
London SW1A 2DY

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