BWW REVIEW: JERSEY BOYS Returns To Sydney For A Fabulous Night Of Nostalgia
Thursday 6th September 2018, 7pm, Capitol Theatre
Des McAnuff's award winning production of Marshall Brickman (Book), Rick Elice (Book), Bob Gaudio (Music) and Bob Crewe's (Lyrics) biographical jukebox musical JERSEY BOYS returns to Sydney to the delight of the eager Opening Night audience. The fabulous sounds and styles of the 1960's and 70's comes to life with brilliant recreations of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons' music as the four seasons of their rise and demise is recounted from four differing viewpoints.
When JERSEY BOYS first hit the University of California's La Jolla Playhouse stage in 2004 it emerged as a new form of jukebox musical, opting to use the famous band's songs to tell their own story, rather than the music just being a soundtrack an unconnected story like MAMMA MIA. The little known history of the founding member's misdemeanours and misadventures worked well to create an interesting insight into the group's rollercoaster of success as the story shares the challenges of dodgy deals, divorce, petty crime and debt collection that marred their success. It contains the conflict and struggle along with the hope and success that engages the audience to want to care for the people behind the music that other shows that centred on clean cut wholesome groups like GEORGY GIRL's tale of The Seekers lacked.
The Klara Zieglerova's scenic design, Jess Goldstein's costume design and Howell Binkley's lighting design of the production remains unchanged from the original season and stands as a bold expression of the tougher working class origins of the group in the 1960's. Chain link fencing and a raise steel walkway traversing the stage draws the image of urban Jersey where Tommy DeVito, his brother Nick DeVito and friend Nick Massi started out busking and playing various gigs in the neighbourhood. Bowling shirts, slicked hair and a series of matching suits recreate the image of the early boy band whilst nipped in waists and perfect coifs characterise the women in an era when they were expected to be feminine and flirty. The use of the comic strip illustrations and minimal set pieces allow the industrial space to transform into the famous Brill Building offices, Bob Crewe's recording studio, concert venues across America and also the domestic spaces of homes that the quartet rarely see. The live recording and broadcast of the group's television engagements is a particularly well-designed piece with McAnuff giving the audience two different views of the experience, as a bystander at the side of the studio and the television viewer getting to see Frankie Valli sing down the camera lens.
For the 2018 return season several performers from the original Australian production have returned to the work. Most notably Glaston Toft and Enrico Mammarella reprise their roles as Nick Massi and Gyp DeCarlo respectively whilst others like Cameron MacDonald are taking on bigger roles, stepping into Tommy DeVito's shoes, whilst Bernard Angel rejoins the production to share the role of Frankie Valli with the bright, young, and incredibly busy Ryan Gonzalez who performed on opening night.
Having seen the Adelaide season of the original Australian tour in 2012 it is interesting to see the subtle changes a new cast can bring to the work. The expressions of the four core characters feels more nuanced and more passionate, capturing the truth of the people beneath the sharp suits and smart mouths. MacDonald gives Tommy DeVito the requisite danger infused with the sly style of a career conman as he manipulates Frankie into trusting him whilst also having the hunger for power as he runs the group. Thomas McGuane takes on the role of Bob Gaudio, the youngest member of the band and the outsider, coming from a better socio economic background than Frankie, Tommy and Nick. McGuane ensures that the young writer, who had already found success before being introduced to the band, has an air of distrust for Tommy whilst exhibiting the signs that he prefers the creative process more than the public profile that performing requires. Toft gives Nick a quiet gravity but also a perpetual petulance as the point of him constantly threatening to form his own band provides a fabulous piece of referenced comedy.
Whilst all performances are wonderfully strong in both characterisation and musicality, recreating The Four Seasons sound wonderfully, the standout performance comes from Ryan Gonzalez who, despite publicity originally focusing on Bernard Angel playing Valli with no mention of alternating performers, delighted the opening night audience with an absolutely incredible expression of Frankie Valli. Gonzalez has a wonderful boyish charm that fits so perfectly with his portrayal of Frankie. As the wide eyed eager teenager Frankie Castelluccio, before he adopted the stage name of Valley and then the more Italian sounding Valli, Gonzalez captures the joy of watching "The Variety Trio" performing at a club whilst exuding the innocence of boy still required to be home on time but so desperately wanting to please his new friend and mentor. Gonzalez ensures the audience sees the man beneath the beautiful voice which he recreates with an amazing falsetto. As with his other performances, having recently filled in the role of Charles Guiteau in ASSASSINS when Bobby Fox was injured on opening night and performing as Usnavi in IN THE HEIGHTS, and Freddy in THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, Gonzalez gives his characters a warmth and sensitivity along with an endearing charm of characters that are to some degree misfits as the naive Frankie, desperate for a big brother figure to guide him was. Added to the singing and dancing, Gonzalez also exhibits some fabulous dancing, proving this bright young star who also won the 2016 BroadwayWorld Sydney Award for best Cabaret Performer for his HISPANIC ATTACK! is the complete package in a leading man. If you are looking for a trip down memory lane, an entertaining evening out, an intriguing exploration of the challenge of perspective or enjoy a bit of history thrown in with your music, JERSEY BOYS will definitely satisfy. Regardless of how old you are, Frankie Valli and The Four Season's songs are part of the wider cultural landscape so you will end up realising that you know most of the music but seeing them in the context of the creators own story gives pieces new meaning as the singers find new connections to the pieces, engaging with the emotion, not just recreating a sound. Whilst BroadwayWorld Sydney's Senior Editor cannot comment on Bernard Angel's ability in the role of Valli, not having had the opportunity to see him perform, BroadwayWorld Sydney is very familiar with Gonzalez's high calibre work and consistency so definitely recommends trying to see a performance where he takes the lead.