Theatre review: Jersey Boys balances the music with its story

If you love the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons you’re going to love Jersey Boys.  But even if his music isn’t top of the charts for you, there is still a great deal to like about this jukebox musical.

Long before The Situation and Pauly D catapulted into the cultural lexicon, the original boys from the Jersey Shore took the international music scene by storm with a string of hits including “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”.

In Jersey Boys, director Des McAnuff takes us on a near breakneck journey through the group’s seemingly endless hits, but what sets it apart from other musicals of its genre is the smart book from Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

Providing more substance than many other jukebox musicals that have gone before (and after) it, Jersey Boys effectively tells the group’s story using their music as a backdrop, rather than an endless attempt at forcing the songs into the narrative.  At times Brickman and Elice layer songs directly on top of the narrative which allows director McAnuff to move at a dizzying pace helping to ensure the audience gets its money’s worth.  It is in using the music this way that ultimately satisfies two masters: those that can’t get enough of the music and those that may be looking for something more than just a string of hits.

A scene from the Dancap Productions presentation of Jersey Boys.  Photo by Joan Marcus.
A scene from the Dancap Productions presentation of Jersey Boys.  Photo by Joan Marcus.

Of course, while the biographical storyline raises the bar for Jersey Boys among its peers, it is an inescapable truth that it is still mostly about the music and this cast delivers.

Nick Cosgrove literally shines as the singer with “the voice of an angel” as comfortable in the high notes as he is in Valli’s later years that saw some of that falsetto sound disappear.  As the de-facto narrator John Gardiner gives his Tommy DeVito just enough edge to make it believable when we discover he spent time in what he refers to as the “Rahway Academy of the Arts”.  Michael Lomenda is terrific as the brickhouse Nick Massi with a Brad Garrett sensibility, and while he may not look the part, Preston Truman Boyd is a standout in his portrayal of songwriter Bob Gaudio.

With the exception of Kara Tremel in the role of Frankie’s first wife Mary Delgado, the women don’t fare as well.  While the show may be about the four men, it was still disappointing that the women weren’t able to rise above their second-string status.

The effectively simple set of scaffolding is punctuated by large video screens with Roy Lichtenstein inspired comic strip panels that help set the time and sometimes the mood.  Choreographer Sergio Trujillo ensures the precise movements of the group’s dance style.

Jersey Boys rises above others in its genre by skilfully balancing its music with story.  Oh what a night, indeed.

4 Out of 5 StarsJersey Boys
5 – 23 September 2012
Queen Elizabeth Theatre

The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. This is the story of how a group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were thirty. Visit http://www.dancaptickets.com for tickets and information.

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