The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 9th December, 2021
There are lots of biographical shows charting the rise of music stars, rags-to-riches tales of incredible talents and the subsequent ravages of fame. What sets Jersey Boys a cut above is the handling of the material. Telling the story of Frankie Valli and the group that was to become The Four Seasons, the show is divided into four acts, each narrated by a member of the group. The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice doesn’t gloss over the murkier aspects of the boys’ lives—the criminal activity, the womanising, the links to organised crime—nor does it shy away from gritty language. Tough guys talking tough. The group could just as easily be called The Four-Letter Words.
We begin in Spring, narrated by Dalton Wood as Tommy DeVito, the character who brings the group together (and will ultimately pull them apart). Wood is great in the part, with a likeable quality that offsets Tommy’s questionable behaviour. We meet young Frankie Valli, an innocent in a den of thieves, played by the exceptional Michael Pickering, who really hits the high notes. My Eyes Adored You is just lovely.
Summer shows the band achieving chart success. The guys recreate the distinctive sounds and the hits keep coming. Sherry Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry…and we’re reminded of just how great these songs are, and how they have become part of the fabric of popular culture. This act is narrated by Blair Gibson as songwriter Bob Gaudio, an innocent misfit among the hard-nosed boys from Jersey, whose presence gives rise to friction. Gaudio’s talent is undeniable and Gibson gets his social awkwardness across as well as his genius.
Unfortunately, we return after the interval to hear that Michael Pickering is unable to continue; the role of Frankie will be played by Luke Suri, with whom Pickering shares the part. And while it’s a shame not to get to see Pickering’s Frankie mature and complete his arc (Get well soon, Mike!) it means we get to see both actors’ versions. Curiously, it works. Like in The Crown when they swap actors to play the Queen getting older!
Autumn shows Frankie as older and more careworn. Played by someone else, it’s more striking how the music business has changed him!! This act is narrated by Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths), deep-voiced and laconic with a fixation on hotel towels—There is a rich vein of humour amid the drama and Griffiths is the funniest. The cracks are starting to appear, with Tommy’s exorbitant debts putting everyone in jeopardy.
Finally, Winter, narrated by Frankie, depicting Valli’s greatest personal tragedy. The hits never stop coming. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You brings the house down. Luke Suri is phenomenal.
At the very end, the original group members reunite to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a kind of rebirth to follow Winter. And of course, we’re all up on our feet and loving it.
An uplifting show with a dark underbelly, this is a proper grown-up musical, intelligently structured, superbly written, and executed to perfection by a top-notch cast.