Jersey Boys – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By @Steve Crabtree, November 2018
Can there be a better way to celebrate your birthday than having the Jersey Boys round to your gaff? Well, as Leeds grand Theatre turns 140 years old, the smash hit musical landed just in time to let the celebrations begin.
I’m lucky enough to be watching the internationally acclaimed show for the second time. I loved it first time round, and I loved the film too. When my mum played the records, I loved the music; so you could say I was pretty excited to be seeing Jersey Boys again.
“A ride through the years”
And as we swing in to act one, memories of the story we’re about to see come flooding back. In this half, we’re mainly taking a ride through the years as the boys come together. We see them meet, we hear their early chemistry, and we learn how they come of age. Quite often the ride isn’t easy. Rejection, prison… the journey of the Jersey Boys is more than just about the music.
Narrated in turn by the four original members Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Frankie Valli, there’s an important story that follows the rise of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks. Four boys whose songs would eventually take them to international stardom.
In one of six cast changes in tonight’s show, Peter Nash took the role of Tommy De Vito, the self styled leader and decision maker. That’s how he sees things anyway. And he did the cocky-wide boy type character justice. You found yourself liking, then not liking him throughout the show.
And it was the vocal of Michael Watson in the role of Frankie Valli that once again blew minds. It was even stronger than it was eight months ago. He hit every note, and oozed quality in everything he sang. His range is absolutely insane, and gave a sound portrayal of Valli from a young and naive kid through to a world class performer.
James Winter played Bob Gaudio with ease, and Karl James Wilson was a fantastic Nick Massey. Both were cast changes, and having three out of the four main characters being played by their understudies is always a risk. Except in this show.
“The tunes came thick and fast”
Although there’s more to the show than the ‘jukebox musical’ label suggests, the tunes came thick and fast. My friend and I both enjoyed ‘Earth Angel’, ‘Cry For Me’ and ‘Sherry’. In fact, all 22 numbers from the opening act were incredible. ‘My Eyes Adored You’ and ‘Walk Like A Man’ had people singing along and toes tapping.
And it wasn’t just Wilson as Valli who had the voice. All four characters delivered the songs perfectly. There was a hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck each time the boys harmonised and sang together. The special thing the Four Seasons had was being replicated so easily by the guys we were watching tonight.
If I could have one small criticism of Jersey Boys, it would be the scenery. The backdrop remains a very scarce, industrious stair and balcony constantly throughout the show. Maybe it’s like this to tie the story back to the group’s humble, hard beginnings; but I do feel Jersey Boys is worthy of something that little bit better. Something world-class for a world-class group. The stage dynamic changes when the biggest scenery change see us in the recording studio and I just feel that kind of thing should happen more throughout the production.
In act two, the trials and tribulations are cranked up a notch, as divisions find their way in to the group, along with departures and difficult decisions. There’s a heart breaking moment as Valli deals with the passing of his daughter, but that’s flipped round with a show-stopping rendition of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.’ This draws huge applause from us in the audience, and Wilson seems to drop the act for a second as he smiles at us in appreciation. I liked that.
“A delighted audience on their feet”
We’d been treated to more hits like ‘Let’s Hang On’, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ and ‘Working My Way Back To You’ in the second act. People bobbed up and down in their seats, and the sheer enjoyment was obvious. I was singing along to every song, and Jersey Boys is cemented in my top three favourite musicals. As the show closed down, each member of the Four Seasons gave us their final narrative. Each one with their own view of what the band and their band mates were. Each one different. It’s a very poignant moment, with the four characters that the audience has made a connection with.
We end with a delighted audience on our feet, singing along and dancing to ‘Who Loves You.’
Once again, Jersey Boys has been a memorable show, and a worthwhile and quality night out at the theatre. Like its music, the show doesn’t age and it’s one of those you will enjoy again and again. The 140th birthday of The Grand Theatre has certainly been a special night.