Premiering on Broadway in 2005, Jersey Boys is a multiple Tony Award-winning musical chronicling the lives and songs of ‘The Four Season’ original members; Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio, a group of blue-collar Italian-Americans who went from committing petty crime and singing in bowling alleys to becoming one of the biggest American pop sensations of all time, selling 175 million records before they were even 30!
Oh, what a night! (Editor’s Note: you just had to go there, didn’t you?)
Thanks to Covid, it’s been a hot minute since The Civic Theatre had the opportunity to host a highly acclaimed production and let me tell you – it was worth the wait, with G&T Productions Jersey Boys soaring as high as one of Frankie Valli’s famed falsettos!
Whether you’ve been a fan of Valli and Co. since the 60’s or, like myself, were first introduced to them as a result of watching Heath Ledger dance his way down High School bleachers singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in the film ‘10 Things I Hate About You’, there was plenty to love for those of us who donned our sequin jackets and headed off to watch the opening night of Jersey Boys on Saturday.
Anticipation was high and the mood was electric, thanks in no part to the absence of live theatre in many of our lives, but it would be unfair to pin the well-deserved, and rousing, standing ovation at the end of the performance on anything other than the undeniable talent of the stellar cast.
The show, based on a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio (yes, that Bob Gaudio) and lyrics by Bob Crewe, rousingly recreates the catchy songs, convoluted lives and roller-coaster careers of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons over four acts – each told from the perspective of a different member of the band.
The boys’ narration propels the story by layering exposition right over the songs and through this unique framing, we are fully absorbed into their world – witnessing them initially struggle to overcome their circumstances, recruit band members, and find their sound. We’re there as they have to fight to record and perform their future chart-toppers like “Sherry”, “Walk Like a Man”, and “December (Oh What A Night!)”. We witness the pressures that their meteoric rise to fame had on their relationships (with their families and each other), and finally, cheer them on as they’re inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Make no mistake, this production exists to celebrate the songs of The Four Seasons and while fans may flock to Jersey Boys to hear “Rag Doll”, “Working My Way Back To You”, or “Beggin” flawlessly performed, they should all leave The Civic Theatre with an appreciation of how plot-driven the show is able to be without getting in the way of the music.
However, as much as I enjoyed the story, Jersey Boys’ secret weapon is its stars. American Hayden Milanes shines as Frankie Valli, absolutely nailing every one of the singers’ insane falsettos (and every other note contained within his impressive three-octave vocal range). It was one of those rare performances where I caught myself closing my eyes and forgetting that it wasn’t Frankie Valli performing on stage, however, thanks to Milanes’ commanding stage presence it was a performance that also managed to cross the line from impersonation into something far more compelling.
The remaining leads comprise of Fergus Inder, Matt Cranleigh, and Andrew Coshan, playing Tommy DeVito, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi respectively. They more than earned their standing ovations, delivering dynamic performances and lush harmonies over the two-and-a-half-hour production. Special praise goes out to Inder and Cranleigh, brilliant local performers who embody the undeniable strength of New Zealand’s musical theatre talent.
It might be the live musical withdrawal speaking, but Jersey Boys felt like essential theatre – and going by the response of the opening-night audience – it seems like thousands of Aucklanders would agree.
What: Jersey Boys – The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Where: Civic Theatre until May 17; Wellington from May 21
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