‘Jersey Boys’ was rockin’.
Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s latest production packed a powerful punch with all the jitters of opening night. ‘Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ made its Greater Brisbane community premiere at the Redcliffe Entertainment Centre, combining the iconic rock and roll that captivated the music scene in the ’60s, with standout performances and mesmerizing choreography.
The musical follows the story of four young men from New Jersey: Frankie Valli, played by Alexander Thanasoulis; Bob Gaudio, played by Matt Leigh; Nick Massi, played by Jeremy Clark; and Tommy DeVito, played by Thomas Armstrong-Robley. The men form the rock band The Four Seasons and are propelled into international stardom with their catchy songs. Multiple storylines converge, including Valli’s rocky relationship with his wife and daughter and DeVito’s debt problems, with the heart of the show being the friendship between the band members. Making its Broadway premiere in 2005 and winning Best Musical at the Tony Awards, it went on to win two Drama Desk Awards, one Grammy Award for Best Musical Album, and a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. These awards do not come as a surprise, considering the toe-tapping hits of the band, ‘Oh What A Night (December 1963)’, ‘Sherry’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, plus other golden tracks, such as The Angels’ ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’. The show speaks about work-life balance and the impact of fame. Based on real people and events, it covers all aspects of day-to-day life from growing up and first loves, to marriage and financial struggles. Recently, it was announced the show would return to the West End in April at the Trafalgar Theatre.
Technically, the show needed some tender lovin’ care. Lighting design by Armstrong-Robley and Chris Walker allowed for wonderful fades and effects that were reminiscent of a smoky alleyway in Belleville, but often the moments in between major songs or scenes were left in partial darkness or actors were barely in the lit area. It seemed the show had a series of set lighting states, but none to account for the in-between moments, which made them difficult to understand. However, the live band at the back of the stage was loud and proud as one of the highlights of the production and turned the theatre into The Tivoli. Together with the performers, the band had the audience on their feet and clapping along, which created the magical experience that The Four Seasons were able to command in their heyday.
Set design by Armstrong-Robley and Jonathan Johns followed the same style as other ‘Jersey Boys’ productions; two huge wooden and metal scaffolds on both sides of the stage, with chairs, tables, and other pieces brought on to create the multiple locations where the story played out. The different levels where the action took place made sure nothing ever felt static. Costume coordinator Erickson Illustre ensured costumes were changed up throughout the acts to reflect the story’s time range, which was the cherry on top of the overall engaging production design.
Direction by Armstrong-Robley, who wore many hats in the show, including playing Tommy DeVito, did a stellar job with the staging. Scenes moved with a pace that gripped the audience, especially in Act 2 when Gyp Decarlo confronts DeVito about his debts, as well as the scenes exploring Valli and Mary Delgado’s marriage. Actors created bars, studios, and street corners with their blocking, forming microcosms on stage that were instantly recognizable and authentic. Being a story about The Four Seasons as a band, the journey of self-discovery and growth that the four men go on needed to take centre stage. This was certainly clear with DeVito; from the sleazy, advantageous group leader, to his anger, guilt, and remorse, as well as with Massi; from humble and shy, to speaking his mind. Unfortunately, Valli and Gaudio’s stories were lost, in that the audience didn’t see their progression or change. Walking out of the theatre, it was a struggle to remember what the two contributed to the overall story. While each band member is important, Valli and Gaudio’s stories are arguably more predominant and should carry greater weight than others.
Musical direction by Robert Clark was precise and the voices blended together well. Some songs seemed more rehearsed than others, especially the main powerhouse numbers like ‘Walk Like A Man’ and ‘Sherry’, whereas ensemble moments in group songs were overshadowed by lead singers, which is a shame because ensemble moments are rare in the show. However, vocally, the entire cast was strong, even with their individual singing moments being as big as the lead singers. Choreography by Jennifer Morison was a delight; perfectly matched with the time period, well-thought-out, snappy, and fascinating to watch. Highlights were the sassy moves in ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ and the Act 1 finale with the iconic Four Season’s finger-snapping.
The cast wasn’t just vocally strong, but strong all around. Thanasoulis was sensitive and determined as Valli in all his scenes and delivered some powerful vocals. Leigh as Gaudio made the audience’s mouths drop with his introductory song ‘Cry For Me’. Armstrong-Robley as DeVito was undeniably charismatic and performed some of the most intense moments in the show. Clark was also a standout for his vocals and his awkward yet steadfast portrayal of Massi. Claudia Pereria commanded the stage as Mary Delgado, with a top-notch New Jersey accent and a “take no crap” attitude. Dale Shearman was riveting as the eccentric Bob Crewe and his comedic moments were spot on. Special mention to Adam Goodall for his shining vocals in the middle of Act 1 that should have landed him more of a main singing role. Rounding out the rest of the talented cast is Adrian Carr as Gyp Decarlo, Isaac Brown, Kris Kamusinski, Lyndon Steele, Taylor Yost, Taylah McLennan, and Mia Ambrosi.
Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s production of ‘Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ is high-quality musical excitement that deserves to be seen. The talent on stage is impressive, and the script and music make it a standout. Oh, What A Night!
‘Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ performs until Sunday, 21 March at Redcliffe Entertainment Centre. For more information, visit Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s website.