Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 10th February, 2016
The mean streets of Jersey, a breeding ground for mobsters and organised crime, also spawned the remarkable talent of Frankie Valli and his fellow band members. Valli’s rise is the subject matter of this biographical jukebox show but what sets it apart from and above many others in the genre is its handling of the storytelling. The story is divided into four acts, one for each season, and each act sees a different character adopt the role of narrator, until we get to Winter and Valli himself gives us his point of view as he juggles professional success with personal tragedy.
The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is peppered with adult language, like the screenplay of Goodfellas – there is even an appearance by ‘Joe Pesci’ (Damien Buhagiar) whose path crossed with Valli’s on those mean streets. Short scenes give the story a cinematic feel. The score brings together all the great songs of Bob Gaudio but it’s more than a trip down Memory Lane. The hits and the snazzy jackets keep coming: Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man… impeccably delivered by a talented quartet. It’s like watching the best tribute act ever but more so. The show doesn’t shy away from its grown-up material while managing not to be salacious or gratuitous. There is credibility to the tough-talkers as well as real heart in the performances.
Sam Ferriday is excellent as song-writing wunderkind Bob Gaudio and Lewis Griffiths’s basso profundo lends a humorous edge to the taciturn Nick Massi. Stephen Webb’s Tommy DeVito brings the group together and tears it apart in a rounded characterisation – DeVito’s excesses and drive are convincingly depicted. Inevitably, perhaps, the focus is on Frankie Valli. Matt Corner gives a blistering performance, emulating Valli’s range including that searing falsetto. The action covers several decades – Corner subtly shows us Valli’s advancing age and the weight of his problems on his shoulders.
There is strong support from the rest of the company. Mark Heenehan is powerful as mob boss Gyp Decarlo, Joel Elfernink adds a touch of camp as Bob Crewe and Amelia Adams-Pearce embodies the fast-talking nasal accent of Valli’s home turf in a sardonic portrayal of his wife Mary.
Valli’s story is a rare example of the American Dream coming true. Rising from a humble and criminalised background through dint of hard work, he reaches the top and stays there, weathering whatever storms life and Tommy DeVito throw at him. Jersey Boys celebrates his success, reminding us of the gifts he and Bob Gaudio gave the world with a back catalogue of timeless classics.
It’s just too good to be true and you can’t take your eyes off of Matt Corner. Jersey Boys is sheer entertainment that has you walking out of the theatre like a man with a head full of tunes.