LtoR Michael Pickering, Blair Gibson, Dalton Wood, Lewis Griffiths in Jersey Boys UK & Ireland Tour, credit Birgit + Ralf Brinkhoff
Venue: Milton Keynes Theatre
Performance Date: 23 February 2022
Reviewer: Jo Neville
Star Rating: ★★★★
Great music, great singing, great acting. The boys are most definitely back. Since its Broadway debut in 2005, Jersey Boys has won 65 major awards and has been seen across the world by over 27 million people. Bob Gaudio, one of the original Seasons, is currently co-producing the Jersey Boys film with Nick Jonas, starring as Frankie Valli. Just what is the long-lasting appeal of this musical?
Jersey Boys tells the real story of how four blue-collar boys, flirting with organised crime and doing time, became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of the most successful groups of the 60s. They sold over 100 million records and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. As Tommy DeVito, one of the Seasons says, ‘If you’re from my neighbourhood, you got three ways out: You could join the army. You could get mobbed up. Or…you become a star. Through sheer tenacity and talent, the group achieved the latter.
This jukebox musical is crammed full of talented musicians and great songs that sound just as fresh as they did in the 60s and 70s. It is easy to understand why the Four Seasons’ music is always on the radio, used for soundtracks (such as Dirty Dancing and The Sopranos) and covered by modern-day artists such as Måneskin, the 2021 Eurovision winners.
Finding a performer who can act, dance, and match Frankie Valli’s unique voice and vocal range is a challenge, but Michael Pickering certainly delivers. He is particularly strong in the second act with his exceptional solo performance of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You earning well-deserved, prolonged applause.
As well as delivering the Seasons’ biggest hits, including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, and Walk Like a Man, the musical explores themes of friendship, betrayal, fierce loyalty, and grief. It is split into four seasons when each member of the quartet tells their version of events. This clever concept gives the actors space to reveal their individual, and often conflicting, personalities. The four lead actors develop their characters well, and while it takes a moment to tune in to Dalton Wood’s strong Jersey accent, he gives a convincing portrayal of Tommy DeVito’s flawed machismo. Blair Gibson and Lewis Griffiths are also strong in the roles of Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi.
Aside from the four leads, George Salmon, in his professional debut, brings great energy and comic timing to the role of a young Joe Pesci. Joe happened to live in the same neighbourhood as Frankie and Tommy and, as they say in the musical, it is the Joe Pesci who went on to win an Oscar for his role in Goodfellas.
The musical is technically difficult and requires high levels of precision and timing which the cast delivers. The fast-moving, constant changes are flawless and create a feeling of a whirlwind reality behind the blended vocals and tight, well-rehearsed choreography of the group’s singing performances. The only slight weak spot was the first number, a rap cover of Oh What a Night which felt a bit messy. This may be intentional to provide contrast with the Four Seasons who emerge, as if from the past, with perfect harmonies, but it could possibly benefit from sharper clarity. Overall, however, the performance was excellent.
Klara Zieglerova’s set captures the contrast between the group’s dark past and the bright lights of their success perfectly. As the musical begins, a large, cage-like wall lifts as the audience is allowed in to witness the truth behind the public image. Even as their success grows, the blackness of the stage and the use of metal cage-work keeps the threat of their past ever-present. Neon signs and authentic TV footage are used to create the sixties feel while drawings in the style of the famous 1960s pop artist Roy Lichtenstein are a subliminal reminder of the power of an image. The clever use of the stage really connects the audience to the group’s journey, and even, for one moment, allows them to experience the full glare of the spotlight.
This musical combines fantastic songs, a gritty rags-to-riches story, and genuine emotion. The talented cast delivers a great show, well-deserved of the audience’s standing ovation. A show that you definitely don’t want to miss.:
Runs until: 5 March 2022 at Milton Keynes Theatre, and on tour