Review: Jersey Boys @ WMC
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Wednesday 22nd July 2015
The multi-award winning Broadway hit Jersey Boys turns 10-years-old this year and it has moved from its home of the West End's Piccadilly Theatre in London with a touring production around the UK.
Currently playing in the Wales Millennium Centre in the scenic Cardiff Bay, this show runs till August 1st and all who see it will be in for a great time, for this is not your ordinary jukebox musical, as it tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of the most successful American pop groups of the 1960s.
It is a glorious portrayal of pop success and eventual decline due to Mafia influence and dangerous actions all told through a "seasonal" time-frame (spring and summer in the first act, the beginnings and rise of the group; fall and winter in the second act, the decline and eventual reformation in their later years).
It all makes for a fully immersive experience as you feel a part of their story
The Boys in question are main singer Frankie Valli, the kid with the big falsetto voice, Tommy DeVito the guitarist/no-nonsense band "leader", Nick Massi the strong silent bassist and Bob Gaudio the (briefly) innocent keyboardist and hit song writer. Sure the story is street tough and edgy, but the adaption to the stage makes for an entertaining and thoughtful production. The use of the music to tell key moments is particularly effective and moving in parts (look out for My Eyes Adored You at the end of the first act and Bye Bye Baby during the second act) plus the backdrop screens occasional footage from TV shows of the era, plus actual audiences watching the Four Seasons.
It all makes for a fully immersive experience as you feel a part of their story. The four Boys take it upon themselves to relay the story as it progresses, with Tommy DeVito taking the first act through with his many stints in prison and dealings with loan sharks to help fund the group's path to recording success. The musical performances are sung and danced with cool vigour reminiscent of the era, and as the group finally gets together to form the Four Seasons and start to make the hits, the music kicks into another gear as their bigger songs start to take centre stage. The quick transitions between sets keeps the show moving with a fun momentum and there is a huge level of humour involved with the wise-cracking fast-talking Jersey lifestyle.
There is a huge level of humour involved with the wise-cracking fast-talking Jersey lifestyle
The second act follows the group's final realisation of the errors of Tommy's loaning ways, and the group starts to dissolve with Nick wanting no more of Tommy's behaviour and Frankie and Bob looking to continue working together despite troubles in their personal lives. The performances from the actors are all fantastic, with Tim Driesen nailing the Valli falsettos and taking centre stage during the bigger hits of their later career.
Composer and producer Bob Crewe (portrayed by Matt Gillett) is an entertaining character, using astrology to define his choices, and the girls in the show are just as tough as the guys, but with the songs they share with the boys they showcase a poignant and stirring side to the lives of the group members, as most of their biggest hits were about girls and heartbreak (Sherry, C'mon Marianne, Bye Bye Baby) and it remains that these are the strongest performances of the show. The grounding of the characters through their songs and lyrics is wholly accessible and moving.
A great story mixed with great songs and performances all round
This is a fully immersive experience for sure and everyone is ready to get involved. The auditorium is packed for the show with a huge range of ages present, for when music is as timeless and as good as this it stands to reason that it should traverse the ages and not be defined by its era. There are those who remember the music and are taken back to their formative years and for those new to the music they are transported to the era through colourful songs and characters. It is a great story mixed with great songs and performances all round (stick around for the musical finale) and although it can be slightly edgier for kids (authentic Jersey slang ain't for the faint of heart!) it's still a well-produced show that seemed naturally destined for the musicals.
The bigger performances in the second act make for a huge crescendo of sing-along glory and big stage lights, and it ends on such a high it's hard not to feel connected to the story. Connecting to an audience in a musical is key, not only through the emotive responses implicit in the music but the connection through story and characters; if you're not feeling the emotions of the actors through their story and singing, it's not doing it's job. This one does, it does with supreme ease helped largely by the dense story, brilliant cast performances and evergreen ever-good music.
This is a big Broadway show and a chance to catch something like this is such a rarity, so get yourself down to the WMC and enjoy the Four Seasons story. I defy you not to sing the songs in your head after the show.
In fact, let me start things off for you: "Oh what a night..!"
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Related Article: Interview: Jersey Boys Cast