Sydney's Jersey Boys still exciting audiences

By: Aug. 12, 2011
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Jersey Boys, the straight-shooting, angelic-voiced story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is preparing to farewell Sydney after an explosively popular run at the Theatre Royal. Slated to open in New Zealand at Auckland's Civic Theatre early next year, the production, for all its longevity, hasn't missed a step and remains fast-paced and cleverly timed. The story is expertly carried by the versatile and talented company of actors on stage, and it's easy to see exactly why this production has been embraced by Sydney audiences.

The story begins fittingly in New Jersey, with, as they say, four guys under a streetlight singing someone else's song. A green screen backdrop shows the industrial Jersey skyline. Tommy De Vito (Ben Mingay) who commands attention with his self-assurance, is the first of the four characters to narrate the tale in a convention and rhythm we soon get used to; the narrator, two in each act, breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and moves from song to anecdote with a flair that's as sharp as their suits.

If you ask four people about what happened to their group, he says, you get four different stories - and we see the shifting perspectives of the group members through the eyes of Tommy, Bob Gaudio (Stephen Mahy), Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) and finally Frankie Valli (Bobby Fox) himself. It's a winding journey, from club gigs to studio recording with brief stops in prison, debt, and, like all the best stories, love and conflict. The first explosive, definitive Four Seasons moment comes from the full-staged number "Sherry" - a song that Gaudio wrote in just fifteen minutes that erupts into a high-energy, gripping performance, that gathers steam into 'Walk Like a Man' and we understand why this group became a supergroup: it is impossible to look away. A lot of this captivation is generated by the cohesion and talent of the Four Seasons cast: Mahy is exceptionally and effortlessly charismatic, Fox shines with impressive range, Mingay is a compelling presence, and Massi's bass vocals are as delightful as his clever comic timing.

The cast is immaculate, the ensemble strong and diverse, and that "authentic Jersey language" we're warned about before entering the theatre actually adds to the charm of the production. This is a period piece that proves the originating music's universality; the music of the Four Seasons is still heavily played and covered and it's because of the themes we see here in the show - these anthems of love, life, and relationships are timeless.

The second act's showstopper is Frankie and Bob's pet song, 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You'. Fox inhabits the stage with his voice; he sings with conviction, backed by a truly electrifying band and horn section. When this number finished on Tuesday night, the applause was thunderous and well-deserved.

Managing to seamlessly blend broad comedy (largely emanating from Toft's Nick Massi and the hilarious Daniel Scott as producer Bob Crewe) and tragedy (Frankie Valli's moving tribute to his daughter in 'Fallen Angel'), what is offered to audiences is a well-oiled, structural and, meticulously directed production that doesn't miss a single beat. In its last weeks in Sydney the audience is still full and still energised - and still leaving the show with smiles on their faces.

This is a smooth production with tight performances and even tighter harmonies. This show is a triumph.


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