It is easy to adopt a cynical whether-we-need-it-or-not attitude about the return of a show so soon after a highly successful and memorable premiere season. Jersey Boys, however, proved last night that the show, the staging and the current cast still have the wow factor in abundance.
Coming at the end of a diabolical year for jukebox musicals (2005), Jersey Boys rose from the ashes of Lennon, Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys) and All Shook Up (Elvis Presley) to sweep the world stage on a scale comparable to that king of all jukebox musicals Mamma Mia!.
The real life subject matter and the phenomenal catalogue of hits were a fantastic basis for the show, but the secret to the success of Jersey Boys lies in the way it threw out the model of the jukebox musical (and, indeed, the model of most regular musicals) by focusing on the story rather the songs. Sure, the fans want to hear the tunes they know and love, but the whip-smart book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice allows only snippets of songs before moving on at a breakneck pace. The intelligence of the adult audience is, for once, treated with respect as exposition, character development and conflict come out on the fly.
With the audience totally on board for the boys’ early tribulations, the show cleverly slows down a tad to allow full-length performances of the big hits, when The Four Seasons finally makes the big time with “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man.” The brisk tempo of short scenes also pauses in act two for an extended dramatic centerpiece in which the frustrations and tensions of the mega group come boiling to the surface, beginning the unraveling of all that hard-earned success.
The varied structure, in which each of the four leads spends a quarter (or ‘season’) of the show as narrator/interpreter, also provides interest. With the rest of the group out of the limelight, the final sequence provides a genuine star turn for the performer playing Frankie Valli, and Canadian Jeff Madden (right) certainly impresses at this stage of the show. Giving an authentic and natural performance, Madden is a convincing and engaging Valli. Although his falsetto notes do not sound entirely comfortable, Madden’s full voice is strong, and he earns a terrific ovation for the smash hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
If Glaston Toft (left) looks highly polished, and recognisably familiar, in the role of bass singer and bass guitarist Nick Massi, it may be because he has the played role throughout the entire Australian/New Zealand tour. Avoiding the showy trappings or indulgences that would be a temptation to a long term performer, Toft gives a centred, heartfelt performance that stays true to the original direction and character.
Newcomer Declan Egan (right) has the perfect fresh-faced look for young band member, and prolific songwriter, Bob Gaudio. Egan more than holds his own with the more experienced performers, winning hearts with his cheeky delivery and gorgeous singing. Anthony Harkin gives a solid performance as arrogant hood-turned-good Tommy DeVito, although he is missing some the threatening hard edge and raw sexuality that characterises the role.
Returning original cast member Lisa Adam elicits plenty of early laughs as Valli’s girlfriend (and later wife) Mary Delgado. Each of the three female cast members, Adam, Michelle Smitheram and Kat Hoyos, play a mind-boggling number of roles, achieving such a varied number of looks that you could swear there were more than three girls in the cast.
Des McAnuff’s nifty direction, another massive contribution to the show’s success, remains a marvel to watch, with characters, furniture and set pieces, costumes and wigs, and songs and scenes flying in and out with a technical precision that would rival the most intricate choreography of a dance show. Jess Goldstein’s costumes are practically another character in the story, deftly charting the rags to riches progress of the band in ways that would otherwise takes pages upon pages of dialogue. Klara Zieglerova’s industrial non-naturalistic set design plants the action firmly in working class New Jersey, with Howell Binkley’s lighting design adding to constant visual interest.
Jersey Boys is basically a guaranteed great night out, especially for music lovers of a certain vintage. It is worth a return visit from Melbourne fans, and is a bit of a must for those who somehow missed it the first time.
Jersey Boys plays at Princess Theatre, Melbourne until 24 March 2013 before moving on to Crown Theatre, Perth in April.
Photos: Jeff Busby
This review published on Theatre People 13 January 2013