Theatre review: Oh what a night with the Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

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It’s said to be David Beckham’s favourite show, although in my book that’s not particularly a huge recommendation, writes Alan Wooding.

Yes, it’s true that The Four Seasons were incredibly popular … after all, 175 million album sales and a host of happy fans on both sides of the Atlantic can’t be wrong!

This week you get the chance at see the acclaimed Jersey Boys at Milton Keynes Theatre, the Tony, Olivier and Grammy-award winning musical recreating that special chemistry between four New Jersey lads whose rise to fame and fortune ended in a huge argument, an acrimonious split over finances only for them to come together again in a sensational reunion.

The band – which had several personnel changes over the years – enjoyed a succession of hit records spanning the early 1960s, the mid-1970s and beyond, while Frank Valli and The Four Seasons were finally inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Vocal Group Hall Fame some nine years later.

With the show having been seen by more than 19 million people worldwide since its original Broadway launch in 2005, Jersey Boys is a macho jukebox-style show which has its audience tapping their feet as they enjoyed hit after hit just as show’s original writers intended.

It’s centred around a story of mobsters, gambling and heated arguments, but be warned as there’s plenty of ripe language if you’re taking youngsters along.

However you’ll be amazed at just how many of the band’s hits you already know – Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Let’s Hang On, December 1963 (Oh What a Night), Working My Way Back to You, Rag Doll, Who Loves You? and Big Girls Don’t Cry for starters – all instantly recognisable even if you’re not of a certain age!

The band’s first proper hit ‘Sherry’ sold a million singles in just three weeks and the successes just kept coming while it’s all relived in this touring version of the show written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with the original musical score from Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.

The band’s members are brilliantly portrayed on stage with lead guitarist Tommy DeVito (Henry Davis), chief songwriter and keyboard player Bob Gaudio (Sam Ferriday) and bass guitarist Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) joined by young Francesco Castelluccio – he later changed his name to a snappier Frankie Valli.

Belgian-born Tim Driesen stars as Frankie and is absolutely brilliant, especially using his remarkable falsetto voice. His lead vocals are so good that it was difficult to tell if he was actually miming to a Frankie Valli track … but of course he wasn’t!

Driesen has already played the part of Frankie Valli for a short spell in the West End at the Prince Edward Theatre while he has recently been in Holland on tour where Jersey Boys received rave reviews. How Tim’s voice has survived such a workout night after night is a miracle in itself!

Two of his second act solos, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Fallen Angel, brought the house down, especially after the brass section arrived on set to give even more depth to the magnificent backing performed by the show’s ten musicians under the direction of Gareth Weedon.

Ferriday is great as the talented Bob Gaudio whose back-catalogue of hit songs is simply mind-blowing, while fellow actors Lewis Griffiths and Henry Davis are also convincing as the baritone voiced Massi and tenor DeVito respectively, the latter being the wide boy chancer who caused financial mayhem which forced the band’s acrimonious split.

Meanwhile Sinead Long is one of the three hard-working girls in the cast. She also plays Valli’s tragic 17-year-old daughter Francine plus several other characters as do dance captain Leanne Garretty and Amelia Adams-Pearce who doubles as Valli’s first wife Mary Delgado as the trials and tribulation unwind.

There are some comical moments from Nathaniel Morrison as Barry Bolton while Sean Kinsley plays Gyp DeCarlo, Matt Gillett is the group’s lyricist Bob Crewe and the versatile Luke Morton plays Hank Majewski among others as a succession of nifty, slick dance moves are played out in a succession of colourful jackets.

However for me there was a problem with the actual dialogue. Putting aside those American accents, it was often difficult to understand what was being said and it caused confusion on several occasions.

Another thing that might have helped would have been to actually flash up the years as the story goes from the 16-year-old Frankie meeting wife Mary in the early 1960s to him losing his teenage daughter Francine to a drugs overdose in 1990.

Putting that aside, it’s a really enjoyable evening out. It’s slick, sometimes funny and poignant and when the quartet are reunited at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, it’s sensational.

It all ends with another version of ‘Oh What A Night’ and by that time the whole audience were out of their seats and on their feet so perhaps David Beckham wasn’t that far off the mark after all … Oh what a night indeed!

Jersey Boys plays Milton Keynes until Saturday, February 14 with matinees at 2.30pm next Wednesday and Thursday plus both Saturdays. Tickets are priced from £15 to £45 (Premier seats are £56) when booking in person at Milton Keynes Theatre Box Office. Full details online or over the phone (call 0844 871 7652) – visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes and remember that booking fees apply.