ALTHOUGH Jersey Boys includes more than 30 hit songs from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it wasn’t intended to be a musical, writes Stuart Flitton.
The show is a multifaceted play – packed with live music – telling the rise of the group from the backstreets of New Jersey, where getting involved in the Mafia, or making it big in showbusiness or sport, are the only out of poverty for many.
The show moves back and forwards in time and tells the story from the perspective of each of the four members of the original line-up.
The kingpin of the Four Seasons isn’t Valli, but Tommy DeVito, who started a band in his teens that went through various names and line-ups and, as The Four Lovers and Valli on board, had a minor hit and a TV appearance.
Later the bass singer and vocal arranger Nick Massi and lyricist Bob Gaudio joined and the group adopted their famous name after the 4 Seasons bowling alley in Union, New Jersey, that had a room where they had auditioned.
When the show’s writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice were conducting research and spoke to the four musicians, they found disagreements about what happened and have used this to tell the story from the different perspectives.
What is undisputable is that the Four Seasons worked hard at their craft, spending years as a backing band for producer Bob Crewe, until they hit Number One in the charts in 1962 with Sherry and followed that up with two more Number Ones, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man.
As well as these hits, the group wrote songs that were big successes for many other singers, including one that is revealed in a surprise moment in the show.
The Four Seasons’ catalogue of hits is brilliantly weaved into the story, providing touch points on their journey as well as reflecting the drama that surrounded their lives offstage.
On the night the News & Mail saw the show, Valli was played by Dayle Hodge, who alternates the role with Michael Watson and is also Dance Captain.
He is joined by Simon Bailey (DeVito), Declan Egan (Gaudio) and Lewis Griffiths (Massi) who have all performed the show in the West End.
The other people in the Four Seasons’ lives are played by Joel Elferink (Crewe), Mark Heenehan as mobster and father figure Gyp DeCarlo and Phoebe May Newman, Olive Robinson and Tara Young in multiple roles.
Credit must also go to the superb band, led by Francis Goodhand and included a stand-out performance by drummer Samuel Firsht.
An audience member who had seen Jersey Boys in London said that the touring version is as good as that in the West End and was enhanced for her by the superb stage at the New Victoria Theatre.
The show writers have resisted any attempts at telling the story directly in new song, but rely on the Four Seasons themselves to provide the musical landscape.
While the story shows the highs of the musical collaboration and how the young men from the backstreets of New Jersey hit a chord with working-class America, it also relates movingly their personal setbacks, conflicts and tragedies.
It is a “musical journey” with a climactic end number, featuring all the cast, that has the audience on their feet.
The phrase “must-see show” is often overused, but is never more apt that for Jersey Boys.
Jersey Boys is at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, until 27 October. To book tickets, visit www.atgtickets.com/Woking or call 0844 8717645.
The show will then move to Bristol Hippodrome from 30 October to 17 November 2018, Leeds Grand Theatre from 20 November to 1 December 2018 and the New Theatre Oxford from 18 December 2018 to 5 January 2019.