Bristol Hippodrome

 

The Jersey Boys - May 2015

 

“We’ve got some of the finest prisons in America” says Tommy DeVito in the opening scene of the Jersey Boys at the Bristol Hippodrome.

And that just about underpins this rags to riches story of a group of four youngsters who turned themselves into what was to become one of the most iconic bands of the 60s and 70s.

This jukebox musical, which first appeared on Broadway in 2005, traces the rise, fall, and rise again of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons when four unknown boys from Newark, New Jersey (hence the title of the show) rose from obscurity to fame and fortune.

It stars an array of talented performers in the roles of Frankie Valli (Tim Driesen), Tommy DeVito (Stephen Webb), Bob Gaudio (Sam Ferriday) and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths).

Struggling for identity and recognition the group started life as The Variatones and the Four Lovers before settling on The Four Seasons, naming themselves after a bowling alley where they had failed yet another audition.

According to Gaudio, "We figured we'll come out of this with something so we took the name of the alley.”

Petty crime, prison and financial mismanagement dogged their early years and they suffered one rejection after another.

But with perseverance, grim doggedness and determination the group’s first number one hit, Sherry, launched them on the road to international stardom and between 1962 and 1964 they blasted out an unbelievable 16 Top 40 hits including Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, My Eyes Adored You, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back To You.

And with success came the inevitable roller coaster ride. 

In a scenario familiar to many rock and roll bands they succumbed to excess, found themselves hopelessly in debt, hell bent on self-destruction, and ultimately in thrall to the mob.

The show spans about four decades of their lives from the early 1950s to their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the four main characters take turns to narrate the action, each having a unique storytelling style and offering different insights into the bands journey.

And intertwined with the dramatic and compelling storyline, sometimes funny and full of bad language, is a whole host of number one hit songs that the audience really came to hear.

Tim Driesen eerily captures Valli’s unique falsetto voice almost to perfection (just a little harsh at times), a sound which is echoed by the other highly talented members of the group.

And didn’t the audience just love it!

Judging by the demographic at last Wednesday  night’s show, rockers from all over the West Country descended on the city’s theatre to relive the glory years of the 60s and 70s and by the second half were hand clapping and foot tapping as the group blasted out one memorable hit after the other.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, a 1967 hit that featured in the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter starring Robert de Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep, brought the house down and fully deserved its standing ovation.

The simple set allowed smooth transitions between the scenes with characters wheeling on and off their own props, and the use of industrial scaffolding to give various levels of action, and large Roy Lichtenstein style pop-art comics projected on screens above the stage, was highly effective.

Frankie Valli, who is now in his early eighties, is still working and will be touring the UK from next month: but not many want to be confronted with the grim reality of old age.

The Jersey Boys is a show about youthful aspiration, self-belief and appetite: at the Bristol Hippodrome it is possible, for anyone over a certain age, to suspend disbelief for two and a half exuberant hours and return to the heady days of their feckless youth.

In every respect it is this trip down memory lane which is so beseeching.

And, surreally, this company of highly talented, hard-edged rockers, with magnificent voices and overwhelming stage presence, now have a greater reality than the real thing.

The show is pure, unpretentious nostalgia from beginning to end, shrewdly scripted, at times veering from musical theatre - re-enacting the story of the band’s rise and fall - to pure concert, with the quartet breeching the fourth wall and delivering one hit after another to an enraptured audience.

Ably supported by a first class orchestra under the musical directorship of Gareth Weedon this is a show you won’t want to miss.

And if you weren't a teen in the 60s then not to worry because the show has all of those catchy nonstop hits that you are bound to recognise and, like your parents and grandparents before you, will soon come to love.

The Jersey Boys, Bristol Hippodrome runs until Saturday, June 13. Evening performances start at 7.30pm and matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays from 2.30pm.

Mike Bisacre

Falsetto isn’t my favourite sound and apart from the songs something wasn’t quite right with The Jersey Boys which opened at the Bristol Hippodrome this week.

But then this is a minority review because everyone else in the audience loved it and jumped to their feet at the end to shout, hollow, stamp and cheer – don’t know why.

So what's not to like?

The charactisation is great – four individual young men from an impoverished Italian background who make it good in the music business – very good in fact.

One too young to know better with an amazing vocal range; one gauche and with OCD bathroom tendencies; one a geeky songwriter who shunned the limelight and another who gambled on anything that moved and forgot to pay hotel bills…or the tax man.

When the main players stood front of stage and individually spoke to the audience that was really good and their individual personalities shone.

I think the problem was the show didn’t make me want to singalong or dance although I knew most of the words and loved most of the lyrics.

And that’s it in a nutshell.

Frank joking about his mother still living in the projects and using the public launderette - okay, where was the mother?

This is a show strictly for the boys because there isn't one strong female role, just wives, girlfriends, one night stands and the tragic daughter.

Even this seemed an aside.

I feel awful saying this because you could tell Tim Driesen who plays lead singer Frankie Valli worked his socks off but for me he lacked charisma and stage presence.

A dead-ringer for David Tennant but even skinnier in his oversized suit he was dwarfed by the others players.

The delivery of the songs was all wrong – they tried to rock when it should have softly rolled.

Even people who had seen the show in London agreed the cast at Bristol didn’t reach the same heights.

I loved Let It Be about the Beatles, 20th Century Boy about Marc Bolan and Buddy the story of Buddy Holly all these shows really worked.

The weakest jumping-on-the-bandwagon musical meteorically speaking I have seen was Tonight’s The Night about Rod Stewart but this isn't far behind.

Okay I could be one of those who is fed up with people putting on a show about some aging individual or group – yet this isn’t some ageing band as its claim to fame is way up there.

I am not going to say anymore because I feel mean so I have published another more objective review from former Clevedon Mercury correspondent Mike Bisacre who enjoyed the same show in Bristol and has also seen the London production.

Carol Deacon

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