Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio with Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed by Des McAnuff
If we listed some of The Four Seasons’ choice hits, this would surely be enough to tempt even the most unfamiliar into watching the international juggernaut which is Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s Jersey Boys, making an anticipated return to Edinburgh at the Playhouse until February 4th.
But it’s more than that: this is the story of these four lads from, well, you might guess it – New Jersey. Who would form a group which stood against the onslaught of the ‘British Invasion’ and championed a return of American rock. Telling their story – chiefly through the life of lead singer Frankie Valli, Jersey Boys takes one of the industries’ richest back catalogues of tunes, including My Mother’s Eyes, Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You and infuses it with the real story – a life trudged in crime, violence, money, and of course, love, paving the road for each of the Four Seasons to Walk Like a Man.
Klara Ziglerova’s staging is strikingly effective from the onset, a persistent ‘cage’ locking the boys into the stage – non-intrusive but a reminder that no matter how they might attempt it, there’s no way out of this biz. It frames the quartet well, centre-stage with Sergio Trujillo’s choreography routines flittering around them, accomplished but never distracting – similarly the neon signs offer a glum, false-hope form of cheer and colour to the show, even lending themselves to a few visual gags.
It all evokes a unique ripple through the Playhouse auditorium. This venue is never short of a jukebox musical, but unlike the more chipper and stock productions, Jersey Boys conjures something entirely personal for audience members – carried through with the tunes and story of four guys pushing their way through life, through the music industry, and into realms they never imagined they would reach.
Not only does Des McAnuff’s production replicate the ‘sound’ of the Four Seasons, Frankie Valli’s staggeringly powerful falsetto voice is the crux of the show – this evening Michael Pickering carrying it proudly, always distinctive amidst the group numbers, but never robbing focus. Both individually and collectively, the boys come together for a belter of a show – a wonderfully tremendous production which recaptures the memories of many and introduces brilliance for new audiences.
And if it is the first time for audiences to meet Frankie Valli – well, you’re in for a treat. Pickering brings spectacular control to the pint-sized singing icon, standing head and shoulders above the expectations for a jukebox musical, and together with co-stars Blair Gibson, Christopher Short and Dalton Wood brings stage magic and charisma.
Pickering and initial protagonist Tommy DeVito (Wood) have a more significant presence in the plot, Wood, in particular, carrying the early stages of the show with an enviable ooze of bad-boy charm, carried throughout as they balance the puffed-out shoulders of the band ‘leader’ but the fragility of a man’s refusal to admit defeat. Pickering’s time to shine performance-wise is in the presence of Frankie’s relationship with her daughter, a tragic element to his tale, all the pain communicated through Pickering’s beautiful rendition of Bye, Bye, Baby.
And Short has no right providing a stellar stand-up routine throughout the show as the more reserved member of the team, Nick. Withdrawn but pitched to neigh-perfection for their comedic timing, everyone’s heart may bleed for Frankie, but there’s more than a soft eye for Nick in the house. Equally, Gibson provides a more heartfelt performance against the brash and boisterous nature of the other boys, complimenting them equally – and often turning in a few of the better dance moves.
But the more unsung heroes aren’t found within the line-up of the four, Emma Crossley’s role as Frankie’s first wife Mary brings a much-needed dimension outside of the masculine and a tension which ripples throughout her sternly humorous and strong presence. And a tremendous Damien Winchester, whose standing ovation at the finale is justly deserved for their multiple ensemble roles – ranging from Ohio police force, the music industry cheats and further – all of which raise a chuckle or come with a spectacularly controlled and enunciated vocal performance.
But if one were to strip back the music numbers, difficult given its frequency and quality, the story itself – of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, there are gaps and transparencies in elements of the condensed story – only highlighted by the excellent quality of the rest of the production. These superficial storytelling elements don’t detract significantly and certainly never dampen the enjoyment – but if truth be told that the intention of the Jersey Boys is to tell the story of Valli and the band, a few pages have been skipped for the sake of entertainment.
You can’t take your eyes off them; the best night out in Edinburgh this year, Jersey Boys plunders the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame for the greatest hits which ripple through generations. Structured with fine performances, each belting out tight vocals and sublime orchestration into a ravenous and appreciative Edinburgh audience. There’s a rare charge in the audience, stoked memories, re-ignited passions, and a tune to carry long into the night. It’s the perfect and quintessential response to the January question: the best answer to the blues? Some rock.
Jersey Boys runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until February 4th.
The show runs for 2 hours 30 minutes incl interval. Monday – Saturday at 19.30pm, and Thursday – Saturday at 14.30pm.
Suitable for ages 12+
Tickets are available from £13.00, which may be obtained here.