On one level this is a very slick jukebox musical, but music has the capacity to take us to another place, which is exactly what this show does.
First performed on Broadway in 2005, with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, it ran on the New York stage until 2017, and has been touring across the world. It is presented in a documentary-style format from four seasons ( neat eh?). Valli is the voice. Gaudio the music. Massi the revelatory narrative.
It’s a classic American tale- Rags to riches, and back to rags. In the early 1960’s the music was all, with little interest in, or investigation of, hit musicians . If the criminal records of the group, for which they had been imprisoned, had been known as they became famous, their careers would have been over. Their clean image a conscious attempt to distant themselves from their murky past at a time when popular music had a bad boy image, but little substance. As the show was being created, the production team were approached by family members of the late mob boss Gyp DeCarlo to ensure that he would be portrayed “ respectfully”.
However good the narrative, the show depends upon singing excellence and is well cast. Jim Gibbs, playing the role of Frankie, excels with his falsetto, Simon Bailey, Declan Egan and Lewis Griffiths, playing the other three Seasons offer pitch perfect vocal harmonies. Gibbs, an understudy deserves particular credit for filling big shoes effortlessly, and convincingly. He also delivered the stand out number of the night, a beautifully sung, and arranged, “My Eyes Adored You”. Musical Director Francis Goodhand ensures that all the songs have just the right light and shade to help them breathe, with modern technology offering nuances and depth not possible when the songs were originally written. A gantry and staircase provide a basic framework for the set, a video screen is used sparingly, and to great effect, particularly when some original footage compliments an onstage song.
New Jersey has been the crucible for several essential American talents, Bruce Springsteen, Count Basie, Jon Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Debbie Harry, Frank Sinatra amongst them. New York even more so. Springsteen’s autobiography tells of a time when music was playing all around him, influences were diverse and new, and everybody thought they could be a star. Basic recording techniques put an emphasis on songs that were simple and catchy and there was a thirst for more of this new music. It was a heady time, and one which nurtured the Four Seasons.
Hit songs assail the senses with astonishing speed, the narrative provides a pace rarely seen in jukebox musicals, and the finale works splendidly as each Season checks out from the stage eschewing the normally obligatory extended greatest hits mash up. This is a fine show, which does justice to the music, the musicians, and the time. A full house offered a deserved standing ovation at the close. Jersey Boys runs until September 8th.