I reviewed Jersey Boys when the show last visited the Playhouse Edinburgh in October 2014 and thought that it was a great show then, and that can sometimes be hard for the next time you see the show to live up to. No worries on that front, Jersey Boys is just as sharp (maybe even that bit sharper) this time round.
Although this show traces the story of four young guys from New Jersey out of the streets and into international fame and selling over 200 million records along the way, writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (writers of the book too) have handled the story in such a clever way with its documentary style seen from every member’s viewpoint that it avoids completely any elements of “tribute band show” styling; a great trick in itself as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons have between them some of the most recognisable songs of that period.
For this show, The Four Seasons are Frankie Valli (Matt Corner), Bob Gaudio (Sam Ferriday), Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) and Tommy DeVito (Stephen Webb). Matt Corner is the only change to the band line up from the last show that I saw, and his vocals as “Frankie” are simply outstanding. These songs were written by Bob Gaudio with one singer in mind –well not just written, but arranged specifically for one singer – Frankie Valli, and Matt is doing a fantastic job in recreating that special sound of the group. These songs are not throw away pop songs (like so many of the period were), and have some challenging arrangements. It takes a very good singer to handle them properly.
Everyone else in the band is on great form here too, adding the vocal layering that is needed to re-create on stage that sound that was just so different from anything else around at the time.
This show originally started off as an idea by Bob Gaudio himself, but as the writers sat down with Bob and talked to the surviving original members, it soon became clear that there was an untold story here waiting to be told that had never officially been done before. This to me is what actually gives this show its sharpness because like all the best stage musicals ever written (and Jersey Boys is up there with them in my opinion), once you take away the music you still have a real dramatic story that is full of the highs and lows of the characters and enough depth to it to fill out these characters as real people. As a straight theatrical story, Jersey Boys is still a show.
Being able to sing and perform is not enough to do one of the lead roles here. You also have to be able to act and tell a story on stage here, and all four of our leads here can do all of these things.
For a fan of late 1950s/early 1960s doo-wop, high school songs, this show is perfect as we watch our boys running through some songs of the period and almost changing their band’s name as many times as the songs they sing until a neon sign with “Four Seasons” on it illuminates the way ahead like a guiding star. The band limp along from venue to venue until they meet the missing piece in the puzzle – writer Bob Gaudio who at 15 years old (he’s now 17) already had had a national hit writing the novelty song “Who Wears Short Shorts”.
With Bob on board, the hits start to flow - "Sherry" that, although written very quickly, provides them with that first unique Four Seasons sound and their first number 1 record. Two other number ones follow on very quickly "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man". Bob and Frankie also at this time do their famous "Brooklyn hand shake" contract over music royalties and rights.
As our story unfolds we get the rising debt crisis of Tommy DeVito and the problems of how to repay that to the mobsters he borrowed from, the tensions causing disintegration of the original band, personal tragedy for Frankie and also the struggle to get the classic "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" recorded and released.
Jersey Boys is a great story, but it is also a musical, and what a musical…when you have songs of the quality of those that Bob Gaudio was writing for the band and later Frankie Valli as a solo artist then the two are really a perfect marriage. Bob Gaudio was simply one of the great songwriters and arrangers of his time and when you hear all these great songs in one show you just say to yourself “one man wrote all of these -wow”. Bob Gaudio songs are for me up there with Lennon and McCartney songs.
Jersey Boys can be a bit of an odd show in places too because the songs are so recognisable that it is easily missed sometimes just how perfectly the lyrics are fitting into the dramatic story line as it unfolds. The lyrics of the songs not only fit perfectly in places but enhance the story.
This is pretty much the perfect stage musical, great story, great songs, great acting, amazingly quick and slick set changes, high production values and it is just so easy to see why this show is filling out theatres everywhere it plays.
There are only two tiny little tweaks I would ever make to this show.
The first one is a slightly different arrangement of “The Angels” (who were touring with the band at the time) singing “My Boyfriend’s Back” bringing it just slightly closer to the original vinyl record. Just a little personal thing here as it is one of my all time favourite songs (originally intended for The Shirelles).
The second would be in Scotland anyhow for a final encore of “Bye Bye Baby” as for many this will be the most recognisable of their songs and we all seem to be closet “Bay City Roller” fans at heart just waiting to get out for a few minutes every now and then.
Review by Tom King