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BWW Review: JERSEY BOYS, Trafalgar Theatre

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The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is the ultimate jukebox musical

Jersey Boys

Jersey BoysIt's been over four years since jukebox musical Jersey Boys was in the West End. The uplifting story of the rise of one of the most successful bands of the 1950s and 60s, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, now explodes back into London at the newly refurbished Trafalgar Theatre.

Among the culture of petty crime, wild child Tommy DeVito begins forming a band from a group of rough Italian-American boys from Belleville, New Jersey. In a real rags-to-riches story, after a long slog of unsuccessful gigs, "Sherry" becomes an overnight hit, launching the band into global success. Hit after hit follows, along with female adoration and the relentless toll that touring takes on the boys.

The good times don't last; the second half begins with the gradual disintegration of the band; Tommy's gambling finally catches up with him, Valli's daughter dies from a drugs overdose and the band eventually falls apart. Yet the talents of both Frankie and composer Bob Gaudio cannot remain silent and the hits keep coming.

Each band member has a different take on the story, reflecting the reality of unique memories. As with most jukebox musicals, the narrative acts as a link between the songs, but the story is detailed enough to not be simply a filler. Even those whose parents may not have been born when these songs were released, brilliant renditions of "Big Girls Don't Cry", "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" remind the audience just how many hits the band had.

There is a lot of story to fit into the show and it is inevitable that cuts must be made, but it is a shame that the female characters feel underwritten, especially Frankie's feisty wife Mary, played with sardonic wit by Melanie Bright.

A baby-faced Ben Joyce takes on the role of Frankie Valli in a truly impressive West End debut. He captures the astonishingly high pitch of Valli with an effortless falsetto, along with the focused determination that led to the collapse of his personal relationships. He switches from an exceedingly energetic song and dance routine to dialogue seemingly without taking a breath.

The genius composer Bob Gaudio is played slickly by Adam Bailey. Gaudio was the creative force behind the band, reluctant to be in the spotlight. Bailey is smooth, charming and warm.

Band founder Tommy DeVito is captured by a hugely charismatic Benjamin Yates. He shows DeVito as the bad-boy, quick to temper, but also very likable. Karl James Wilson is the quiet and unassuming Nick Massi; understated, thoughtful and very self-aware.

The four lead actors have a genuine chemistry and very credible friendship, with all its highs and lows. They also demonstrate impeccable harmonies together. Renditions of "Beggin'" and "Walk Like A Man" are particularly impressive.

The entire cast shows a synergy and dynamism that is infectious, but Ben Irish gives a lovely flamboyance to zodiac-obsessed music producer Bob Crewe and Matteo Johnson is cheeky and funny as a very young Joe Pesci.

It has been said that the start of the story, showing the establishment of the band feels overlong and it is only when the band takes off that the show does too. However, this revival feels much tighter and, thanks to the energy of the cast, the story flies along. Director Des McAnuff pushes the cast, with lightning-fast costume and wig changes, simultaneous scene changes and an almost continuous motion to the show. Sergio Trujillo's choreography is also highly slick and polished.

Klara Zieglerova's design retains the industrial look of previous productions, using simple, but effective metal scaffolding to create an upper platform, with two staircases either side to facilitate movement and scene changes. Michael Clark's interesting pop art projections also remain and the use of an on-stage camera to project some of the band's TV studio concerts, cut with original archive footage is also very successful.

Jersey Boys may be the story of a band whose music sounds distinctly of its time, but thanks to brilliant writing and standout performances, this fresh and vibrant production is a feel-good hit that everyone will adore.

Jersey Boys is booking at Trafalgar Theatre up to 2 January 2022

Photo Credit: Mark Senior


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