Review: Jersey Boys – Prince Edward Theatre, 20/02/2011 (mat)
When?: Sunday 20th February 2011, matinee
Where?: Prince Edward Theatre, London, stalls
Who?: Scott Monello, James Winter, Jon Boydon, Eugene McCoy, Simon Adkins, Charlie Bull, Mark Carroll, Michael Conway, Ben Evans, Michelle Francis, Jye Frasca, Lucinda Gill, Mark Isherwood, Paul Iveson, Tee Jaye, Stuart Milligan, Joseph Prouse, Zara Warren, Jayde Westaby, Ben Wheeler.
It is somewhat incredible in hindsight, despite Jersey Boys opening almost three years ago to the day, that this was my first visit to the phenomenally successful multiple Olivier Award winning biographical musical, which tells the story of the meteoric rise of sixties badboys the Four Seasons. I think I had always considered Jersey Boys equal to We Will Rock You, Never Forget or even Tonight’s the Night in being a shallow jukebox effort, only truly enjoyable for hardened fans of the featured artist. How very wrong I was – Jersey Boys is an absolute delight and masterclass in its genre from start to (spontaneous standing ovation) finish – and I cannot wait to visit again.
Told through narration and dramatic scenes interspersed with the hits of the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys never ventures into the realms of serious drama, keeping the action light and accessible. There is plenty of (genuinely funny) humour in Marshall Brickman/Rick Elice’s wonderful book to keep things bouncing along as we see the band develop from a failing group of crooning mobsters, into one of the most successful bands in music history. Des McAnuff’s ultra slick direction is flawless in ensuring no character is under-developed or over-exposed; McAnuff’s finger is clearly on the pulse in terms of pacing and character development. The versatile sets (Klara Zieglerova) and stunning lighting (Howell Binkley) are of the highest quality and make each of the cast look like a million dollars, no matter how small the role. I am frankly surprised that the production only managed four Tony awards in 2006 (Best Musical, Best Actor (John Lloyd Young), Best Featured Actor (Christian Hoff), and Best Lighting Design (Howell Binkley). Even more surprisingly it only managed one Olivier in 2009 (Best Musical) from the five nominated categories. If a modern production was ever going to ‘clean up’ the awards again, then this feels the one.
The cast (changing from 15th March 2011) are superb, with many ensemble members really standing out. I noted Tee Jaye (better known as Tommie Jenkins, who managed six weeks at #1 in the charts in 1995 with the dance hit “Let Me Be Your Love”) was excellent throughout, as were Stuart Milligan (Jonathan Creek’s Adam Klaus) as mafia don Gyp DeCarlo and Simon Adkins as the camp music producer Bob Crewe. Filling in as lead singer of the Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, was the scheduled alternate Scott Monello. Monello’s acting is decent enough and he does not lack in effort and characterisation; but his voice on the other hand was rather more disappointing, especially when compared to Ryan Molloy’s incredible falsetto. Monello also looks considerably younger than Molloy, this despite having been with the show since opening in 2008. He is believable enough as a young and naïve street kid in the early scenes, but rather less so as a harried father of two and superstar as the years roll by. The remaining three members of the band were perfect; Eugene McCoy plays the rather neurotic Nick Massi, excelling especially in his ‘angry’ scenes and narration. Understudy James Winter, as the brains behind the operation Bob Gaudio, is also dead on the money. Winter did not look or sound an understudy and compares favourably to clips of other performers in the role which I have seen – but I am sure this rather shambolic performance is probably not a fair comparison.
Reserved for special praise however is Jon Boydon as group founder Tommy DeVito. Boydon plays the role so well, it is almost impossible for me to imagine seeing anybody better in the part. Not only does Boydon have a great singing voice, he looks and feels the part in every sense – I am not sure how transferrable a skill naturally looking like an Italian-American mobster is, but it is definitely one he was born with! Boydon gives a performance of the highest order and I am delighted he will be staying for another year in the role.
It wasn’t always plain sailing for Jersey Boys; the show looked in trouble when ticket prices were slashed just weeks after opening (£25.00 any seat, any performance) and the show has been dogged by accusations of ‘unethical practice’, namely the use of pre-recorded tracks and that members of the cast mimed*. To overcome such adversity proves how important word of mouth truly is in theatreland – blogs and discussion communities may be the first to attack a very poor production – but they are also the first to tell potential patrons about an excellent one, which Jersey Boys most certainly is. A motion picture is now said to be in the works and if it is half as good as the stage musical, it should be a real treat. If you haven’t already been, what are you waiting for?! The chances are you’ll be booking your next visit on the way out of the theatre!!
- Harry Zing
*These accusations have been made long and loud by many in various chat communities and I believe the controversy even briefly reached the mainstream media. Allegedly, Ryan Molloy was so annoyed at this perceived sleight that he made of point of singing live on various shows (including “The Weakest Link West End Special”). Sources allegedly from within the show have given conflicting explanations about the use of click-tracks and pre-records. Having seen the show, there were certainly times when the final mix was considerably louder than others – and all of these occasions were when little or no falsetto was being sung. For example, in “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” Scott Monello did sound considerably different to the first act segment featuring “Sherry”, “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”.
One explanation given is that ensemble members are singing into off-stage mics to create a ‘layering’ effect. The idea is to have understudies for the corresponding roles singing along to the performer on-stage adding depth, but also providing a back up should something go wrong (for example if Frankie’s voice should crack on a difficult high note). Another view is that recordings are played of the actual performer, made when they join the cast, which allow the performers to join in/drop out with themselves at will and again, act as a safety blanket in the harder songs (the riff in “Sherry”, for example, doesn’t appear to be sung live on various Youtube recordings I have watched in researching).
As a regular theatregoer (as well as having a good knowledge of click-tracks and their mechanics) I have concluded that (at the performance I reviewed) a mixture of off-stage vocal support, use of accompanying recordings and raising/lowering mic levels are all employed at various times to help the performers give the best possible performance.