Tearaways who strike a chord

Jersey Boys

Waking like men: Sam Ferriday, Tim Driesen, Stephen Webb and Lewis Griffiths as the Four Season Pictures: Helen Maybanks

Jersey Boys

New Alexandra Theatre

*****

YOU don’t get shows much slicker than this unless you spray them with WD40, it just glides from scene to scene, song to song and drama to drama.

Too many bio-musicals are little more than tribute act concerts with a back story of struggling act becomes famous and that’s about it, with much of the popularity stemming from nostalgia for the music that made the act famous in the first place.

Jersey Boys is different, the story of a blue collar band from Belleville, New Jersey which eventually, after changing names with the same regularity people change shirts, became Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Not only were they from the wrong side of the tracks, they actually have a backstory beyond local boys make good.

For a start how many bands had prison records for breaking and entering, jewellery store robberies and the like, and had associations with mob bosses, in this case Angelo Gyp DeCarlo, of the New York Genovese crime family, the man running loan sharking in New Jersey – and incidentally, a man linked to that other son of Hoboken, New Jersey, Francis Albert Sinatra.

They owed half a million in taxes and band founder Tommy DeVito left the band when they bought out his $162,000 debt to a loan shark.

The group are also different in that many of the songs by the last member to join the group, Bob Gaudio, are universally well known, probably more so than Valli and the Four Seasons who were never as big in the UK as the USA.

In fact Valli, now more than 60 years in the business and who started as Frankie Castelliccio, only had seven top 10 hits in the UK charts in more than 40 years of singles andjersey boys only one No 1 and that not until 1975 with December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night), which opens the show in a 2000 French rap version.

The result is a story that could form the basis of a half decent gangster movie but instead we have a musical with songs that have become standards such as Walk Like a Man, Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Working My Way back to You and the beautiful song that almost never made it, Can’t Take My Eyes of You.

Four Seasons with a sharp cut image and a checkered past: Lewis Griffiths, Tim Driesen, Sam Ferriday and Stephen Webb

Tim Driesen has a fine falsetto voice creating a believable Valli while Stephen Webb is a tough Tommy, who sees everything as under his control, even band members, and you feel is only one word out of place from becoming dangerous.

Lewis Griffiths is bass player, and bass voiced Nick Massi, who is the quiet one, always threatening to quit and start his own band when things are not running smoothly, and who finally explodes when the full extent of Tommy’s debts and financial negligence comes to light.

He quits the Four Seasons at the height of its success, not to start his own band but because . . . he just wants to go home.

The most talented musician of the group was Bob Gaudio, keyboard player and, most important, skilled songwriter, played by Sam Ferriday, who sees in Valli, with his unusual voice, a solo artist with a backing band, his eventual role.

Support comes in the shape of a hard working ensemble playing every other role from Gyp, played by Sean Kingsley, to Joe Pesci, the young gofer and numbers runner, played by Damian Buhagiar, and yes it is that Joe Pesci.

While Amelia Adams-Pearce plays Valli’s first wife Mary Delgado, Leanne Garretty who plays Lorraine, Valli’s girlfriend after his marriage brekas up and Sinead Long, who plays Francine, Valli’s ill fated daughter.

A talented cast, great music and a good story, what more can you ask.

Director Des McAnuff keeps the show moving at a cracking pace, helped by Klara Zieglerova’s flexible set which involves everything from a huge video screen to a prison gantry and scene changes as fast as actors walking on and off.

Musical director Gareth Weedon’s 10 piece band provides a full sound to complement Gaudio’s music to produce a lively musical drama steeped in nostalgia.

The Alex has long shunned traditional panto in favour of West End shows for the festive period and this one has already proved a big hit with audiences, 94 per cent sold already for what has become the hottest ticket in town.

Buy now to avoid disappointment. To 04-01-15

Roger Clarke

10-12-14

 

 

Oh, what a night!

*****

This touring smash hit show about the rise and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is a pre-Christmas cracker.

There are no holds barred in the story of four lads from the wrong side of the track who created their own unique sound and went on to sell 175 million records worldwide.

Good to see the theatre bursting at the seams with fans of the music, and one pensioner headed for home after the final curtain beaming: “That made me feel 40 years younger”.

After a fairly slow start during which the excellent Stephen Webb, playing the tough, driving Tommy DeVito, acts as a kind of compere to stitch the tale together, the action accelerates with hit after glorious hit . . . Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like a Man, Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Bye Bye Baby, and Oh What a Night – it certainly was.

And what a performance from Tim Driesen as FrankieValli. His falsetto voice was perfect for the role, while his acting was very impressive too.

Also outstanding were Sam Ferriday as Bob Gaudio, the more serious member of the group and composer of many of the hit songs, and Lewis Griffiths (Nick Massi).

The pulsating show reveals love, problems of debts, occasional despair and even tragedy as the smartly-suited group make their way from no-hopers to international stars, and the ladies in the cast provide a most enjoyable helping of glamour.

Great support, too, from musical director Gareth Weedon and his excellent band.To 04.01.14

Paul Marston

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