“If I were you, I’d take a permanent vacation”
So part two of my West End Groupon deal and an interesting one for me as it was a long-running show that I can honestly say I would never have gotten round to going to see on my own behalf: Jersey Boys. The story of four guys, Frankie Castelluchio, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio who rose from their humble New Jersey beginnings to rise to the top of the charts as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Things did not get off to a good start with a rap version of ‘Oh! What A Night’ and being exhorted to clap along: it is just too early in the night to start with that business and it is not like it is the type of show where there is lots of audience participation so I found it an odd way to start. We then slid into the regular run of things with the story of how the group came together and then found success, being narrated in four quarters, or seasons (see it’s clever!) by each of the band members. The music, much of which was unfamiliar to me I have to admit, as by the band in their various performances and tours which I really liked, but then oddly, random songs became story devices. So, ‘Oh! What A Night’ became a tale of the group visiting a brothel and having his innocence plucked from him though with a premature ending (‘As I recall it ended much too soon’…!). It was a bizarre moment and one that didn’t work for me and I was glad to see the majority of the rest of the music being performance-based.
There were quite a few aspects of the production that I didn’t get: I wasn’t a fan of the cartoon graphic screens that popped up every so often and thought they added little, though I did generally like the set and its surprising simplicity. But I have no idea in heaven why a man on a moving drum kit kept randomly appearing, sliding and spinning across the stage, weird weird weird. And as the pace of the show is just so relentless, it just races through huge amounts of story without stopping to really convince us of the relationships behind the scenes which would give the show some much needed heart. And it also paid little attention to demonstrating the passage of time, I had no idea we’d covered over 10 years at one point! Ironically, having bemoaned the use of songs as narrative rather than performance devices, the one time I was truly moved was during ‘My Eyes Adore You’, sung by Valli to his bitterly disappointed wife and beautifully harmonised. It was one of the few times where true emotion was displayed on the stage and allowed to play out for more than 30 seconds.
There’s no doubting that it is well performed: I liked all four main guys but I think Stephen Ashfield edged it in his narration section with his geekily charming demeanour as songwriter Gaudio, though Jon Boydon’s Jersey drawl was great fun. As Frankie, Ryan Molloy is good but rarely gets the chance to show the heart and soul behind his character and so it ultimately felt a bit too shiny for my liking. I wasn’t a fan of Simon Adkins’ rather effeminate record producer allowing for a depressingly predictable audience reaction laughing at yet another mincing unsophisticated portrayal of a gay man.
I tried, I really did, to approach this with an open mind, but it really just didn’t do it for me. I mean this with the utmost respect, but I think I would have enjoyed it had I been a bit drunk and therefore more relaxed, but I am not advocating drinking in the theatre. Or in life in general, apart from in moderation of course. The people around us were having a ball though, and I imagine if you know the music and have an inkling about who Frankie Valli is, then you’re probably in for a treat.