16
Jul
12

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

Declan Egan, Graham Foote, Anthony Harkin & Glaston Toft. Image by Jeff Busby.

Jersey Boys

The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Newtheatricals & Dainty Group

QPAC Lyric Theatre

15th July – 16th September 2012

 

Somewhere an audience member just whispered:

These guys were so sharp back in the day. You look at bands today and they all look like idiots.

 

Well, Jersey Boys is a must-see! It’s quite simply the slickest show you’ll see in 2012…if you can get a ticket! You may not know the story but you’ll know the songs; they’re all your favourites, still heard so often on radio, in movies and in TVC’s. You’ll be tapping your toes and singing along to hits like Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Oh What a Night, My Eyes Adored You, Stay, Let’s Hang on to What We’ve Got and Bye Bye Baby.

During interval last night (Brisbane’s opening night), Wally Lewis told us that the guy sitting next to him was doing just that! Singing, right into his ear, loudly, incessantly! I suggested he pick out a harmony. (He must have assumed Sam was an injured footy player, with his dislocated shoulder in a sling and his jacket thrown casually over it). Yes. It was a mixed crowd, a new sort of crowd for QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, just as it should be.

The winner of four Tony Awards, Jersey Boys is for everyone. I think I may have said the same about Rock of Ages but the difference here is that this music is timeless so even your grandparents will enjoy it. Jersey Boys is the best, most entertaining jukebox musical I’ve seen. In a blockbuster musical, it’s often difficult to get all the elements working together. Newtheatricals, Dainty Group, The Dodgers, Rodney Rigby, their co-producers and their creative team have not allowed any element to become the weak link. There simply isn’t one. This is a well-oiled machine, operating without losing any of its warmth and humanity like some of the other blockbusters; it’s easy to see why this show is such a success all over the world. In addition to an incredibly talented cast, production values that are second-to-none and fabulous songs that stay in your head long after you leave, at its core, Jersey Boys has a great story. And not only does it have a great story but also, its story is exceptionally well told, with a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. If you knew nothing about The Four Seasons, you’ll know (almost) the whole story by curtain call. There are some darker elements that are left unexplored (for example, Frankie lost a second daughter in a car accident within a year of losing Francine to a drug overdose), probably due to the time and emotional investment that additional plot points would require. Even so, they manage to pack in a LOT of background so there’s no chance you won’t be able to follow the story of these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

The result of a – strangely successful – Master Chef style narrative, where each character, as they become more prominent in the story, steps out of it to take turns to narrate events from their perspective, is a Grease Lightening-fast pace and the most electrifying energy on stage since the aforementioned and under appreciated Rock of Ages (from which you might remember Anthony Harkin, who plays Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys, though you’ll not recognise him in this guise!). Roy Lichtenstein style pop art images play across multiple screens located above the stage and scaffolding, adding a fun, colourful 50’s-60’s flavour to perfectly frame the era. The multi-media is also used effectively to stream live footage from the stage for the band’s numerous television appearances.

Note: You can read in your program, which is appropriately album sized, an excerpt from a chat between the writers, in which they discuss the commonality of audience members everywhere: we’ve all been part of a group. Can you imagine watching the story of your group on stage? Your book club? Your football team? Your three best friends in the city? The version you see will depend entirely on who tells it.

Jersey Boys opens with a French rap star and his backup girls performing a fun, funky remix of Oh What a Night (Ces Soirees-La), in between ghetto fencing and scaffolding that could be the set of another West Side Story. It’s the Glee element and it makes the production immediately universal, accessible and super sexy (unless you’re a Glee hater) but it’s still not as good a sound as the original! Fortunately, we get the original sound in abundance.

The Jersey Boys (there are five in all, with Dion Bilios and Graham Foote sharing the role of Frankie Valli) are an incredible group of some of the country’s best singer-actor-dancers. They’re the actual triple threats, you know, like in Network Ten’s upcoming reality show, I Will Survive. I know. I feel you cringing at the mention of it; all you actual triple threats out there. But how wonderful to have commercial television continue to put the spotlight on what you do and, we can only hope, get more bums on seats in theatres everywhere (though, this is clearly not an issue for Jersey Boys)!

The sound is SO good that Sam – ever the skeptic – questioned whether or not the quartet was actually singing. Well, we were sitting close enough to hear a few numbers in stereo and these guys are indeed singing and what’s more, they are absolutely SPOT ON. Graham Foote (Frankie on opening night) is pitch perfect and after years spent with The Ten Tenors, he has the vocal training, stamina and touring experience to sustain the famous falsetto that made The Four Seasons something completely different for their time. Foote’s characterisation is fine and he is emotionally present in every moment, although I felt he could probably afford to take more time to recover, after the phone call informing him of his daughter’s death.

Graham Foote

“We were looking for something new. It was very important to establish a sound, so that people heard a record on the radio and knew immediately that it was you.”

Frankie Valli

Anthony Harkin, the consummate performer, gives Tommy DeVito such intriguing layers that you begin to wonder what you would do if you counted him amongst your own circle of friends. This guy started it all and almost ended it. But you might, as Valli does, end up forgiving him; such is his patent blend of tainted and somewhat adorable qualities. We always like the bad guy, don’t we?!

Anthony Harkin

“You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.”

Tommy DeVito

Declan Egan, in an impressive professional theatre debut, plays the gifted composer, Bob Gaudio. Always smiling, always working and always looking so far into the future that the other band members fear being left behind, Gaudio is an easy-going, open character. Egan brings joy, playfulness and sensitivity to the role.

Declan Egan

“I never heard a voice like Frankie Valli’s. After eight bars, I know I need to write for this voice.”

Bobby Gaudio

Ipswich boy, Glaston Toft (now THERE’S a stage name!), is Nick Massi, the brother of DeVito and the distinctive bass voice, bass guitarist and musical arranger for the group, largely responsible, along with Valli’s falsetto, for The Four Seasons’ unique sound. Massi died in 2000 and Toft’s portrayal of him is a beautiful tribute, revealing unexpected warmth, gentleness and oddball Ferris Bueller style humour. (Nick Massi: the original Cameron Fry!). Toft’s outburst (you’ll know the one, there’s only one) is applause worthy and on opening night he got it, the audience relishing his simple frustration in having to room with his brother while on the road.

Glaston Toft

“Maybe this is a good time for me to start my own group.”

Nick Massi

Well-loved cabaret star, Michael Griffiths, plays the hot-pink-clad life of the party, Bob Crewe, who wrote the lyrics and produced The Four Seasons. He takes a Bob Downe approach to the character and I love it! Griffiths is a standout in an A1 company. In a production such as this, his is no small achievement.

Michael Griffiths

“Follow me, boys. Destiny awaits!”

Bob Crewe

The ensemble is vocally strong and super fast during transitions between scenes, which meld seamlessly into one another, from song to dialogue and vice versa, helping to maintain the show’s break-neck pace. The girls, in their various roles, are committed and completely convincing, particularly Lisa Adam, as Mary Delgado (N.B. NOT the 2004 American winner of The Bachelor but Valli’s first wife). Her pathos and frustration is palpable and she commands our attention; in short, her performance is a perfect study in how to find your light, use stillness and claim the space!

If it were not for the strength of the company, the finesse of Choreographer, Sergio Trujillo, Musical Director, Luke Hunter and his talented band and the vision of two-time Tony Award winner, Director, Des McAnuff (not forgetting the original incredible music and story), this could be another fun, entertaining, run-of-the-mill jukebox musical. Be assured it’s not.

Jersey Boys is something special – it’s the smash hit of the year – make sure you don’t miss it!

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