If you’re a huge fan of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons – I’d probably recommend going along to see a tribute act and doing a bit of light background reading about the lads in advance. For whilst Jersey Boys is a great snapshot into the lives of The Four Seasons and their journey, it’s very much a whistle-stop tour and many of the hit songs are cut short to slip in expositional dialogue.
It’s not so much a Jukebox musical (which I don’t personally like, either) – it falls into the same category as Sunny Afternoon (The Kinks musical). A biographical show that’s heavily influenced by the band themselves, meaning essentially it’s a bit of a sales pitch. I very much like The Four Seasons and admire their work – I don’t need the fictional versions of each band member to jump out to the front of the stage and declare themselves geniuses to convince me.
Ironically, I actually am more interested in the bits I find out in the programme. Who knew Bob Gaudio produced the soundtrack for the film Little Shop of Horrors, and that Bob Crewe co-wrote Lady Marmalade? I digress…
The show follows The Four Seasons as they transform from Jersey bad boys to one of the world’s most iconic bands. It’s an interesting backstory, which is explored well, but the narration from each of the band members gets a little irritating and I feel the story could have been told just as well without it. The songs are without a doubt what makes this musical special – a whole set list of stunning, classic, singable tunes. And, wow, the cast do them justice.
In the biggest display of understudy musical chairs I’ve even seen, barely any of the main parts are played by the intended cast (aside from Michael Watson as Frankie Valli, who sounds uncannily like the real thing, though stage presence and appeal is rather lacking). The most noticeable swap is perhaps Peter Nash as Tommy DeVito. Nash is a fine actor and beautiful singer, with bags of appeal and bad boy likability. However, I have to envisage him as Danny Zuko rather than the linchpin of a band made up of men quite obviously years older than him. Karl James Wilson plays Nick Massi with a believable gentleness and touches of humour, which works well. James Winter as Bob Gaudio has a great voice and delivers the part with confidence.
For me, Joel Elferink as the flamboyant yet knowledgable Bob Crewe shines the brightest, despite not holding one of the biggest parts in the show. Elferink commands the stage and has a stunning professional blend between subtlety and show-steal – he knows when to turn on the humour to make us laugh, but admirably holds back and acts on the sidelines when others are stepping up to the plate. I’ll definitely be giving Elferink a follow on Twitter to see what he gets up to next.
Overall, the show is a nice trip down The Four Seasons lane for fans of the band and lovers of their music. However, without much of a plot (due to the musical being based very much on a true journey to stardom), it relies heavily on the songs striking a sentimental chord.
Catch Jersey Boys at Leeds Grand Theatre until 1st December 2018.
Photograph credited to Ant Robling