The Jersey Boys Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
Expect rivalry, love and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to feature in the original rags to riches tale of The Four Seasons. The band known for their lead vocals sharp falsetto have recaptured their story in a jukebox musical, originally brought to the stage in 2005. Having been reworked into a film (2014) directed by Clint Eastwood, charting the bands rise and fall, the Jersey Boys have enticed the imaginations of a wider audience who want to hear how the rough-and-ready boys from Jersey became one of the best-selling musical groups of all time.
The sixties tale begins by playing the 2000 French rap song, Ces soirées-là by Yannick. Their song December 1963 (Oh What A Night) that has been sampled by Yannick plays out as a reference to why the band remain relevant despite their breakup in 1977. The unconventional track is also the only case of the production referencing another artist outside of The Four Seasons. As the musical chooses to leave its sixties backdrop and the history of the period out of their personal tale, the production showcases The Four Seasons bubble gum songs against the boy’s private struggles. The four streetwise boys take it in turns to tell the story of the band’s history from their individual bubble, with the production splitting the small ensemble cast into several characters who rotate the props as swiftly as they switch wigs.
Alongside the live stage drummer, director Des McAnuff has split the multi-use Palace theatre into two tiers, caging the boys into the centre of the platform and keeping the remaining live band members off stage. Offering a stripped back production, McAnuff’s dark staging places pop art, and vintage video on its backdropped screen to add a brighter pop of colour to the honest narrative and metallic set.
Any newbie to The Four Seasons music should be forgiven for believing the band’s name was actually Jersey Boys, as the group skated through a multitude of incarnations in an effort to find a memorable title. Before their first claim to fame with Sherry in 1962, the boys were labelled as the Four Lovers until a failed audition in a bowling alley had them revamp again to the name that stuck.
Michael Watson (Frankie Valli), Peter Nash (Tommy Devito), Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio) and Lewis Griffiths (Nick Massi) tend to deliver their concert performances or group discussions in slick, suited formations or simply stood at the front of the stage. With four seasons to travel through, the jukebox musical is surprisingly heavy in dialogue allowing for a real story to run between the hit songs. Lacking in some of the showbiz glamour you may expect from a musical, Sergio Trujillo’s choreography and the unique talent of Watson bring the crucial spirit to the show.
Aided by the lovely musical performances of its cast, the shortened renditions of their songs follow the tough and charismatic Italian-American characters to their sweetened conclusion. Breezing through their criminal past and mob connections with the tracks Walk Like a Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Jersey Boys is a production peppered with humour. The show chooses to leave the romanticised image of pop success while surrounding its audience in sugar-coated hits, balancing an introduction to The Four Seasons for a younger audience and the dramatic collision of their egos to any hardcore fans.