“If you’re from my neighbourhood, you’ve got three ways out – you could join the army, you could get mobbed up, or you could become a star.”
So says streetwise minor hoodlum and guitarist Tommy DeVito opening the show as he creates the Four Seasons as a quartet of blue-collar Italian Americans who force their way out of New Jersey on the back of a string of hit singles
If you have the radio in the car tuned to any of the classic hits stations then you don’t have long to wait for a Four Seasons record to come on from an early smash like Sherry to Frankie Valli’s comeback hit Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
Frankie’s unique powerful falsetto might not be to everyone’s taste, but it proved to be their unique selling point. At their height they outsold the Beach Boys and the Beatles in the sixties as the Four Seasons’ sophisticated pop records and tight harmonies soothed a Middle America struggling with foreign wars and internal turmoil.
The other secret weapon was having a genius composer in Bob Gaudio, who the personable Blair Gibson plays from a naïve kid who just wants to write hits to a hardened music business veteran.
What takes this show away from the usual jukebox musical is it doesn’t gloss over the musical and personal tensions that drive bands to success, but then rend them asunder as the dough starts to roll in. For a big hit musical Jersey Boys is raw and surprisingly dark, with plenty of fruity language, as the band wrestle with their own insecurities, divorce, drink, drugs, gambling debts to the mob and the pressure of overnight success, which they are ill equipped to deal with.
Tough guy Tommy suffers most of all, and Dalton Wood in his first major role confidently shows a flawed man who is unable to fight his own demons as he nearly destroys the band.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s tough talking book cleverly deploys a Rashomon style technique to allow all Four Seasons to tell the band’s story from their own perspective, which works well especially when the previously taciturn bassist Nick Massi explodes with rage at Tommy for pissing in the sink as they roomed together on the road. The hugely experienced Lewis Griffiths effortlessly manages that gear change as Nick comes out of his shield.
But the stars of the show are the tunes, and it’s amazing just how many of these songs you know, from a touching Cry For Me as the band realise they are perfectly suited as vocalists to monster hits like December 1963 (Oh What A Night) and Big Girls Don’t Cry
Michael Pickering does a lot of the heavy lifting on the vocals hitting all the high notes as Frankie matures from a kid in Tommy’s baleful shadow to a bandleader who learns to walk like a man. But like the band this is a group effort, so all four leads harmonise well together, and nail the synchronised dance moves that make the most of Klara Zieglerova’s inventive set.
The timeless songs might be the reason that this show continues to pack them in, but despite a couple of mawkish moments it is an often brutally honest meditation on the price of fame and the casualties it causes along the way.
Jersey Boys is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 6th August. To book 0113 2430808 or www.leedsheritagetheatres.com
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 27th July 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★