Jersey Boys – Review – Sheffield Lyceum

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Jersey Boys – Review

Sheffield Lyceum, June 2018

by David Schuster

Bruce Springsteen, Count Basie, Jon Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Debbie Harry, Frank Sinatra, the list goes on and on. Why is it that so many famous musicians have emerged from one small area of the state of New Jersey? Jersey Boys answers that question by telling the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, themselves all boys from Jersey.

Musical theatre requires multi-talented actors, and here the main cast are exceptional. This is especially true of Michael Watson, as playing the role of Frankie requires him to emulate Valli’s trademark falsetto singing. However, it also applies to Simon Bailey, Declan Egan and Lewis Griffiths who play the other three Seasons – after all, their sound was built on vocal harmonies.

The story starts in 1960. Tommy DeVito, on the lookout for new band members ‘discovers’ Frankie and draws him into a life style which he himself is desperate to escape. This is a world of people living on the edge of poverty and the edge of the law. The formative days of the band are hampered by the members spending regular spells in prison for petty crime. It was, and still is, a world where the mafia bosses hold sway.

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“Multiple hits”

It is this drive to escape and make a better life that drove the musicians to succeed. This wasn’t an easy option, churning out hit after hit, constantly on the road and barely seeing their families. Much of the band’s troubles and eventual break-up came from the legacy of their early lives, which DeVito was unable to shake off. The set design utilises industrial gantry, back projection and minimal props to great effect, subtly illustrating the passage of the decades.

When I was growing up in the seventies my mother had Radio 2 constantly playing in the kitchen. I hadn’t realised until I saw this performance just how many of the songs I heard had come from Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, the composer and lyricist behind The Four Seasons. ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Walk Like a Man’ and ‘Oh What a Night’ all came from them. It highlights just how risk-averse the music industry can be that, even after writing multiple hits, Gaudio struggled to get ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ produced. When he did finally succeed it became a gold disc and got to number two in the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

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“Living through the highs and lows”

The show contains no less than 34 numbers, and it was clear last night from the audience reaction that there is still a lot of love for this music. The Sheffield Lyceum was packed, I couldn’t see an empty seat. By the penultimate song, ‘Rag Doll’, everyone was on their feet clapping along and remained standing for a well-deserved ovation.

There are a lot of good musical theatre productions based on chart hits around at the moment, An Officer and a Gentleman, Sunshine on Leith and Mamma Mia! to name but three. What makes Jersey Boys different is that it tells the story of real people living through the highs and lows that life throws at them. At one point Valli ruefully reflects that his mother used to say: “This too shall pass”, but that at the time he hadn’t realised that it meant not just the bad times will pass, but also the good. Nietzsche’s famous quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” holds the key to why so much musical talent has come from New Jersey; life there is hard and from that adversity have come great songs.

And what songs! 12 hours later I’m still humming them.

images: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

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