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Jersey Boys

Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby, Dainty Group, Joseph J. Grano, Tamara and Kevin Kinsella,  Pelican Group, Michael Watt in association with Latitude Link, and Rick Steiner present: JERSEY BOYS – The story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, at the Theatre Royal, Sydney.

I know, I know the season is nearly finished and I know that both internationally and nationally this musical has had truly great, great press. I know that the songs, music, the group, is a part of my growing up life, along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and so, so redolent in my deep, deep unconscious that I ought to have seen it sooner. I know this now from my own personal experience last Sunday and even more because the audience around me was so rapt with the performance – some seeing it for the second and even fourth times – but I just resisted and resisted.

All the glowing press and quotes from other reviews is not spin. I thought it was terrific, too. That it was directed by Des McAnuff – who also gave us DOCTOR ZHIVAGO earlier this year – was thought provoking. Who would have recognised the very fine hand of the director of JERSEY BOYS as the same one that gave us DOCTOR ZHIVAGO?  I guess one is a work in development and this product, JERSEY BOYS, is a finished gem at the end of the rigours of the Broadway  machine.

A biographic musical utilising the extant musical repertoire of the artists of the play title, has not always been a successful formula and the quality has varied very, very much. It depends so much upon one’s own personal referencing, identification to the period through the songs (Sixties and Seventies), that it can become the defining part of the judgement of the experience. JERSEY BOYS has set a bench mark for this genre of musical. Even those of us who have no history with the material have a great time, as well – not just the parents and grandparents but their children do too. The generational spread was all around me – great to see.

The Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is so expertly and expeditiously put together that one is propelled through the events of the lives of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons, so cleanly, without any sense of weight or boredom, both the professional and personal, that it should be used as a reference/teaching tool for anyone else attempting to do it in the future. The music  by Bob Gaudio (arranged by Steve Orich) with lyrics by Bob Crewe is heart stoppingly good (Musical Director, Vicky Jacobs at the helm at this performance) and the performances of the company have been nurtured and sustained to a ‘liveness’ that even on a Sunday – second performance –it is gratefully accomplished.

The Scenic design by Klara Zieglerova, skeletal structures resonating industrial formulas, deftly and efficiently, with Projection Design by Michael Clark that gives a clear sense of time, place and atmosphere. The set design is subtly utilised by the director, Mr McNuff, to create, not just simply exits and entrances at various levels but also, subliminally, character as well. Sophistication of a surprisingly simple and direct manner. Costumes by Jess Goldstein – an enormous number of them it seemed – along with the Hair and Wig Design (Charles La Pointe) were also a significant contribution to the clear and unfussy delineation of place and person – character. The control and choices delivered by the director are so ‘clever’ in their effiency that I need to remark upon them. The Lighting Design by Howard Binkley clean and vivid in its slightly art directed presence – a glamorous musical theatre sheen, if not giving necessarily period or real atmospheres of the world.

The Choreography by Sergio Trujillo is schematically simple, unfussy and crisply startling in its aesthetic punch. Edited and ordered and yet perfectly expressive for the storytelling. This was not dance for dance sake – it was an integral part of the integrity of the production and the tailored style of the project. Simple but compelling.

On the afternoon that I saw it, Matt Backer played Franki Valli and he was simply astonishing. The package of the triple threat, so greedily desired by this genre of actor: singer, dancer, actor, is packed into this young performer with vivid and controlled commitment. From the first entrance to the thrilling first notes of his music entrance there is a charisma about him that demands attention. The dramatic conviction of the scenes in the second act is seamless and reveals depth and technique. A modesty and professionalism and a sense of Matt Backer loving what he is doing, radiates to his audience. They appeared to return it to him in waves of pleasure. Mind you the whole of the show was reflected lovingly by the audience.

Jeremy Brennan as Tommy DeVito, clever and wickedly charming, witty and energised, surrounded by Stephen Mahy (Bob Gaudio) and Glaston Toft (Nick Massi), all create The Four Seasons with clear character delineation and ensemble harmony – musically, emotionally and physically. A team on stage, neatly improvising, or so it seemed, the sub-textual life of the interactions – to give the deft but simplified text, life. Daniel Scott, too, makes a mark with a clear drawing of Bob Crewe the producer and adviser to the rise and rise of the SEASONS. In fact this company of performers gave an impression of freshness and dedication, that is not always apparent in production at this late stage of their performance history. The crime of Broadway is seeing a company in a musical, after an extended run, tending to walk–through the work in an unconsciously jaded manner. I tend to see the more recent musical as part of my New York/London schedule, based on that all too common experience. I don’t know who is keeping a professional eye on this production, but based on Sunday’s performance, worth their weight in gold. My viewing of MARY POPPINS in Melbourne, last year, had several performances not fully engaged and undermined my complete belief and appreciation of the production work and the production itself.

If, like me, you have held off, from JERSEY BAOYS do go for a really easy and entertaining night. Who knew “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was part of the Valli repertoire?  I always, mistakenly, associated it with Burt Bacharach. I have not been able to get it out of my head and find myself singing it spontaneously a lot since Sunday. Embarrassing, hey? But it makes one so happy. There is sure to be a tune to catch you as well: “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “My Boyfriend’s Back”, “My Eyes Adored You”, “Working My way back To You” ,  “Fallen Angel”. Many more as well……ah, nostalgia. A relief, an escape from the present. Ahhhh.