Jersey Boys (Regent Theatre) – theatre review

Undoubtedly one of the finest contemporary musicals and one I never tire of seeing because of its brilliant songs, narrative arc and passionate portrayals, Jersey Boys is back to delight anew. I first saw it at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne in 2009 and then again in 2013. Clint Eastwood directed an on-screen version. Now, arguably the finest theatre in Australia – the spacious and elegant Regent Theatre – is the venue. And the audience lapped up what was on offer. It’s a wonderful, spirited and pacey production, with no shortage of dramatic moments.

Jersey Boys is the story of how four blue-collar boys became one of the biggest American pop sensations. Franklie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi joined forces to become The Four Seasons, writing their own hits and developing their unique sound to sell more than 175 million records before they reached the age of 30. But it was hardly smooth sailing.

The tale develops over the four seasons of the year, with the key players each having their time to shine. It all starts with the loudmouth and wise guy of the group, Tommy DeVito – who is always in trouble with the law and is an inveterate gambler – discovering the talents of a guy called Francesco Stephen Castelluccio. Francesco Castelluccio, who born in New Jersey on 3rd May 1934, took the stage name Frankie Valli. What made Valli uncommon as a singer, especially while trying to carve a niche in those early days, was his stratospheric falsetto voice.

Critics called his vocals everything from shrill to shrieking, but the falsetto remained his signature sound. His remarkable range allowed him to create expert harmonies, and the singer was amply able to hit high notes without his voice breaking. He had a range of 3 and a half octaves.

Jersey Boys features 20 Four Seasons hit songs including “Sherry”, “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. In all there are 22 musical numbers in the first act and 12 in the second, of which my favourite remains “Oh What a Night”; but so many are memorable.

The show won four Tony Awards including Best Musical, while the original cast recording received a Grammy for Best Musical Show album. It’s not hard to see why. Jersey Boys has well and truly stood the test of time.

The cast of 18 is pure dynamite. Doing the heavy lifting is the quartet. They include the surprisingly high-voiced Ryan Gonzalez. Wow. Those vocals! Just how does a bloke with brooding good looks make it look so effortless? I was up close and personal and I am here to tell you the guy was sweating bullets by the end. It is, indeed, a busy, busy show.

Cameron MacDonald is particularly memorable, employing a rough and ready, hard as nails edge as the no-nonsense Devito, the self-declared leader of the band. Glaston Toft is the only member of the foursome who has survived on stage through the three incarnations of Jersey Boys and is gifted some of the best lines in the piece. He always delivers with aplomb. As the master songwriter Bob Gaudio, Thomas McGuane plays the quiet achiever – the man who pulls the stings behind the scenes and prefers to keep it that way. He too, has his role, down pat.

An industrial set design is complemented by a series of low-key but effective props. My only slight reservation was the cartoon imagery that, on occasions, served as a backdrop. To me that simply lacked polish. That though is a minor gripe. Jersey Boys makes a triumphant return to Melbourne, just as impressive as it was here first time around.

Directed by Des McNuff, with musical direction from Ron Melrose and choreography by Sergio Trujillo, it is on at the Regent Theatre until 14 April 2019.

Alex First

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