FOUR SEASONS IN ONE NIGHT: MUSICAL, VISUAL, AURAL AND EMOTIONAL
JERSEY BOYS – The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
with music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe,
choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Des McAnuff
at Civic Theatre, Auckland
From 14 Apr 2012 to 24 May 2012
Reviewed by Vanessa Byrnes, 15 Apr 2012
Jersey Boys comes to NZ shores with a lot of hype, and for once it's worth believing. Over a million people have seen the Australian production alone; with military precision and well-crafted moments its cast and crew deliver a slick, uplifting, beautifully designed and fast-moving night out that will not disappoint.
Even if you're not a diehard fan of such hits as “Rag Doll”, “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man”, you will have a new respect for the specific place, time and people that created the Four Seasons' pantheon of hit songs as they're used to strong effect within the story of Frankie Valli's life and career.
So let's rewind a bit. An opening night at the Civic theatre is an experience to behold, with nearly 2,400 people bringing their great expectations to bear on this much-lauded show. The red carpet is out, the celebs are in, the after-party has been impeccably organised and my partner and I are keen to see what could bring such a crowd out in a recession. What's the magic formula at work here? What makes this story of fulfilling the American Dream so successful here in Auckland?
The story, for one: the great rags-to-riches narrative of Frankie Valli and his New Jersey compadres Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi who “joined forces to become The Four Seasons, writing their own hits and developing their unique sound to sell over 175 million records before they were 30”.
Especially in a recession it seems the public are hungry for real-life tales of talent and determination overcoming the odds. Forget the guy who won lotto; this is the real jackpot. Find your own voice, it seems to be suggesting; trust your friends as family, stay true to the course, your talent, your vision and fortune will follow. It's a tailor-made story of hope and redemption that is universal.
Then there's the slickly-designed set and production elements that exude professional magnitude. A simple overhead catwalk is the only constant; everything else – including musicians – is flown, wheeled, trap-doored in and out. A massive technical operation is surely going on backstage. It's fast and clean with not a second wasted as the story pushes along.
Strong lighting design complements an ever-changing set with neon signs and Lichtenstein-inspired images on massive screens. This is a pared-down, uncluttered design that to gets to the spatial heart of Valli's story.
Sounds design is crisp and inventive. I particularly like the scene set in a large church, where the reverberation is enough to suggest exactly the kind of space we're in. Occasionally I miss some vocals where the backing is a touch too loud; a minor complaint.
Then of course there are the performances. The central quartet of four actors has a fine connection with each other, the material and the audience.
Anthony Harkin is on the money right from the get-go. He's a solid central character to launch the story, never missing a beat and totally in command of his role as Tommy DeVito. Dion Bilios brings impish charm to Valli, not to mention his wonderful voice that flies through the signature falsetto with seeming ease.
Glaston Toft as Nick Massi is dry and centred, a perfect counterpoint to Harkin's firey DeVito. This contrast between the two characters pays off well in the second half. Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio is open and strong in his performance.
A cast of fifteen support the central four, and director Des McAnuff expertly creates some lovely, simple moments within the ever-changing, slick, theatrical landscape on stage. Witty choreography underpins the score incredibly well.
And finally there's the music. Songs tell the story of these lives, music continues under spoken text to underscore the feeling, rhythm pushes the narrative along. The signature sound of The Four Seasons takes on significance that Vivaldi could only have dreamt of.
At one point in the first half, we are backstage behind the four singers as lights and applause hit them. We're seeing what they see. We're part of the Four Seasons family. It's a clever device that sums up the formula for success at work here: bring us in, make us understand the music, let us experience it so that we feel part of it.
This is a sharp show that's been well crafted and marketed. It's a huge production that on one level screams expensive production values and international success. I'm a bit wary of big money driving theatre. However the central story is a good one, and the formula is undoubtedly a success. Emotionally, musically, visually and aurally it channels four seasons in one night.
You'll leave with a tune in your head and a tap in your toe. Catch them if you can; the Jersey Boys are in town.
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See also reviews by:
James Wenley (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);
Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);