No, it’s nothing to do with cow milkers in the Channel Islands; but Jersey Boys is a musical that’s the cream of the crop of pop compilation musicals that have lately become a theatrical epidemic. One of these was a 60s jukebox show called Oh What A Night, and it’s a pity that it therefore stole the title this one should have had — not only is that one of the signature songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons who are being celebrated here, but it could also handily double up as the title of my review.
Indigenously-created shows like Buddy (now back in town in a cut-down, low-rent version at the Duchess) set the bar low for the biographical revue that weaves its subject’s songs in and out of an attempt to tell their life story, but Jersey Boys does something much more ingenious.
As an utterly infectious hit parade of pop songs pours over the audience like an unstoppable tidal wave of warm musical memories, Marshall Brickman (a regular screenwriter of Woody Allen films) and Rick Elice have embedded them into a story that manages to provide a real emotional connection and context to the men and their music by constantly shifting the point of view it is being told from between them.
That creates both proper dramatic tension and surprisingly personal, sometimes poignant revelations of these men from the wrong side of the tracks who, by making different kinds of tracks, become international pop stars, but can never leave their (sometimes criminal) past behind. That deepens and darkens songs like ‘My Eyes Adored You’, sung against the real-life breakdown of Frankie Valli’s marriage.
But Des McAnuff’s propulsive production doesn’t stint, either, on the sheer musical razzamatazz of a song like ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, which is brought to life with a full onstage brass section. Though the show is a bit slow to get going – like reading any biography where I always want to skip the first 100 or so pages that deal with the subject’s early life, I also wanted to fast-forward through the first 50 minutes of this show that deal with their early gigging days – but once it kicks in with ‘Sherry’, it’s a different story, in every sense.
And it is galvanised, in this meticulous recreation of the original Broadway production, by a local cast who make brilliant music brilliantly, led by Ryan Molloy’s star-making turn as Frankie, superbly charting his growth from shy insecurity to frontman with the hair-raising falsetto.