Jersey Boys the musical, a recipient of numerous awards including a Tony and an Olivier, has been wowing audiences around the world since it premiered on Broadway in 2005. The show, which ran in London from 2008-2017, is currently on its second UK tour, and is this year’s festive season offering at the New Theatre Oxford.
Described as a ‘jukebox musical’, Jersey Boys tells the rags-to-riches story of four talented blue-collar New Jersey boys who rose to international fame in the 1960s as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The show, based on the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, documents the band’s history from the perspective of the four group members. The chapters are cleverly divided into ‘four seasons’ and narrated in turn by one of the ‘boys’. They each reflect on the group members’ musical and personal journeys from the ‘Spring’ formation through to the ‘Winter’ of discontent when they disband. Under the slick direction of Des McAnuff and choreography of Sergio Trujilla, this format works extremely well as the ‘warts and all’ biographies link seamlessly with the band’s substantial repertoire of songs.
The Spring narrative is delivered by founding band member Tommy DeVito, who has the foresight to recruit Frankie Valli (formerly Francis Castelluccio) as lead singer of the ensemble. DeVito, a gambler with connections with the mob (played with appropriate swagger by Simon Bailey), accumulates debts which contribute to the band’s demise. The Summer season is given to songwriter Bob Gaudio who sees the unique value of Valli and signs a side deal with him. Gaudio pens the band’s first major hit ‘Sherry’. Declan Egan as Gaudio treats us to a wonderful rendition of ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night)’. Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths), the bass guitarist with the big bass voice, has a strop in Fall and leaves the group, a perfect cue for ‘Stay’ and ‘Let’s Hang On (to What We’ve Got)’.
Winter is left to Frankie Valli, though his personal story also weaves through the earlier seasons. His domestic life has played second fiddle to his musical career and extra-curricular cavorting, and the ensuing scenes of sorrow and strife with his wife Mary Delgado and daughter Francine are sensitively portrayed. Michael Watson as Valli has the voice of an angel and a vocal range that soars and soothes through hit after hit. Highlights for me were his renditions of ‘My Eyes Adored You’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, and the tragic ‘Fallen Angel’.
The set by Klara Zieglerova and costumes by Jess Goldstein are totally in tune with the storytelling and the music. From the gold jackets for ‘Walk Like a Man’ to the orange and black silhouette of drums and telegraph poles, the design is as much in harmony with the songs and stories as the pitch-perfect singing and dancing.
After twenty years apart the Four Seasons reconvene for their induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and perform ‘Rag Doll’ in more sombre attire. Jersey Boys finishes on a high with ‘Who Loves You’ and gives the impetus for some bopping in the stalls and well-deserved applause for the cast and musicians who deliver this energetic, feel-good, toe-tapping musical with aural and visual panache.