Thursday, 31 January 2019

REVIEW: The Jersey Boys - Palace Theatre, Manchester

Yet another Juke Box Musical to hit Manchester this season, and one that I had been waiting to see for some time, having missed it on previous occasions. I had been told how slick, how professional and indeed how real the portrayals of the characters were and that this Musical, unlike most of its ilk, had a lot more dialogue and background story to it.

I took my seat then with great anticipation, but was immediately put off by two things. First, the set. This was a corner's cutting, budget set, which took the same format as many other touring musical production sets I have seen recently: namely a split level set with a gangway to the rear and metal steps either side. Are set designers lacking imagination these days, I wonder?! It was bare, minimalist and even when the smaller set items were brought on, the stage looked very bare and metallic. The second thing was the opening song. A French modern rap. I failed to understand the connection between this and the rest of the musical, and it certainly was not in keeping with it.

Unfortunately my knowledge of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons is very scant, not being of the generation that were teenagers during their fame, but as we went along, I recognised several of the songs. After coming home though I did a little research myself to see if I could compare the originals with those I heard on stage, and I have to say that the sound was extremely similar. I was taken aback Valli's singing voice on stage, but it actually was very similarly pitched to that of the real Valli. Such a high falsetto range, on par with The Bee Gees.

The main problem with the musical for me though was the speed at which the story (and the sets) rattled along. With 22 songs in act 1 alone, The dialogue needed to be pacey, but sadly, because I had no prior knowledge of the story and the band, I did find it very hard to follow. There was a lot of 'taking it for granted' that the audience were up-to-speed. I assume majority would be, since the musical will appeal to Valli fans in the vast majority, but nevertheless, it sped along at break-neck speed at times, and since the minimalist set, failed to change significantly, the only help were cartoon drawings and other images displayed on a large screen above the walkway at the rear.

Michael Watson played Frankie Valli, and despite looking like Tom Cruise, Made a fine Valli alter-ego. The band's former, leader and seeming business manager, who ran the band into massive debt, and flirted on the wrong side of the law, Tommy DeVito, was played with a certain 'Godfatheresqueness' by Simon Bailey, whilst the two other band members were  Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio, the songwriter who preferred staying out of the limelight, and Dayle Hodge as a bass-player with a resonant bass voice too, Nick Massi, who always seemed to think it was maybe time he should form his own band.

It was a high voltage musical, moving swiftly and seamlessly, and it was highly enjoyable. I would have liked to have listed to a few more of the songs in their entirety rather than having them cut off for narrative or segue. Perhaps fewer songs overall and a slower and more emotive exposition would have made me both understand the story and sympathise with the group's plight and journey far more than I did. A feel-good show about the original 'Jersey Boys', which was certainly more gravy than meat, but the Valli fans were highly entertained and we all left the theatre in high spirits singing 'Sherry' or 'Walk Like A Man'.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 30/1/19

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