Reviewed by Jenny Bray
This musical is all about the tale of the 1960s group The Four Seasons, how they came about and their rise to fame. Tommy DeVito explains near the start that in those days, ‘There are 3 options in Jersey; the army, the mob or to become a star’. This is an award-winning show, with 57 awards having been won nationwide.
The show is on at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield, which is well signposted and fairly easy to get to. If you head to the Charles Street Q parks you get the first hour free if you get a ticket from a member of the theatre staff. The staff are welcoming. The box office is by the main entrance doors and there are bars on the ground and first floors and a kiosk on the ground floor selling sweets and soft drinks. You can pre-order drinks for the interval and they come around with ice creams for sale at that point.
I was a little confused by the introduction when there was a relatively modern looking band singing a rap version of ‘Oh What a Night’ in French (‘Ces Soirées La’). It was then explained that it was number one for fourteen weeks in 2000 in France but was based on their hit from 30 years earlier.
Tommy DeVito (Simon Bailey) tends to narrate the first part of the show, depicting taking 16-year-old Frankie Valli (Michael Watson) under his wing as an emerging singer. He also ropes him in to being the driver for a jewellery shop heist. Due to his age he gets off, but Tommy gets sent to prison for 6 months. Tommy says, ‘There’s always people from the neighbourhood in there’. His brother is in and out of the prison, as are other friends and group members at times. Each of the other group members then narrates a bit later on in the show.
As they practice together Tommy introduces Frankie to Mary as he likes the look of her. She’s older and Tommy says Frankie won’t be able to handle her. However, they get together and get married. At this point the band keeps changing their sound and their name while trying to find their fame. They end up being down to 3 from 4 until they are introduced to Bobby Gaudio (Declan Egan), who at 17 is already an accomplished song writer but has just had the one hit 2 years earlier (‘Short shorts’). Tommy DeVito tries to con him with a low wage when he agrees to join the group, but Bobby stands his ground in wanting an even share of the profits. Together they come up with the name The Four Seasons, after going through several names including The Four Lovers. They meet up with producer and songwriter Bob Crewe (Joel Elferink), who initially uses them as backing singers for other songs until they can come up with a hit. Once they write ‘Sherry’ it becomes an instant hit and shoots them to fame, being played on the radio, the television etc. Lots of hits follow and get sung between the rest of the storyline of each of them during that time, including the points where Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) leave the group, leaving just Frankie and Bobby to work out what to do moving forwards.
The stage setting was fairly simple. It started with a plain black background with industrial looking silver metal framing. However, it also turned in to stages, bar settings, a car inner and prison to name a few other changes. There was a large screen at the back which depicted pop art at times and showed the front view of them on television when the stage version was sideways on.
I didn’t know much about the storyline prior to attending so was surprised at the amount of mob references and involvement around a 1960’s band, when most were marketed as being clean cut with all members from wholesome, squeaky clean backgrounds. I found the storyline around the music really interesting. It highlighted the struggles that they had before reaching fame, mob involvement, relationship difficulties and Tommy DeVito’s many struggles, including siphoning group money and frittering it away gambling, getting in to a whole load of debt.
The audience make up was a little older than some of the shows I’ve been to. I would guess that many grew up with The Four Seasons influencing their youth. I’m not quite that old but did recognise the majority of the songs that were sung, especially ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Oh What a Night’ and ‘Bye Bye Baby’.
Each cast member had a different singing pitch to complement the others. Michael Watson, who played Frankie Valli, had a very versatile voice able to travel between high and normal falsetto pitches with ease. Declan Egan didn’t look as comfortable on stage as the others, but his vocals were amazing. Simon Bailey’s depiction of Tommy DeVito included humour as well as showing anger and the want to be the leader and driving force of the group. Lewis Griffith’s version of Nick Massi seemed a little understated compared to the other main parts, but his voice complemented the others perfectly.
The whole show fitted really well together with songs being slotted in to the plot whenever possible rather than just being randomly sung out of nowhere. I liked the end of the show where, once they regroup with the original line up in 1990 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they then each do a short narrative to the audience about their view of the story.
The show’s popularity is evident by the fact that it is running for 2 weeks rather than the usual 1 week. The theatre was full, and everyone looked like they really enjoyed it, especially the sing and dance along at the end to ‘Who Loves You’. There are a whopping 34 songs fitted in to the production. This is a true musical in all senses of the word, as there is an outbreak of song every few minutes. There was also enough story to keep it interesting in between though rather than feeling like it was just a reel off of their hits and there was lots of humour interspersed throughout the story. I had an unexpected good giggle in some parts. I recommend you see it before it moves on after the 30th.
Tickets cost from £24.50 to £62 (booking fees may apply).
Jersey Boys is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 19-30 June 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000