March 23, 2008

West End Jersey Boys–Sharp Book and Terrific Cast!

March 23rd, 2008

The latest reviews from London in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, and The Independent.

Susannah Clapp, The Guardian:
What’s more, it’s got a sharp book, and a far from weedy rags-to-riches story. Together with director Des McAnuff, Marshall Brickman (who collaborated with Woody Allen on Annie Hall) and Rick Elice have come up with a jukebox musical which doesn’t look lazy.

A chronological biography of the Four Seasons (they took their name from a bowling alley which had turned them down for a job singing in the lounge) is spiced up by being told from four different points of view.

Valli (an odd name for someone whose voice was all peaks) was born Castelluccio: a smart scene shows him informing his future wife he’s decided to change to ‘Vally’ and her barking that it had better be ‘Valli’ – because ‘y is a bullshit letter’. Ryan Molloy delivers a shrewd imitation of the uncanny high pitch and gimlet focus in performance, while looking exactly like an undernourished, rat-faced youth. The gifted composer Bob Gaudio (who wrote ‘Who Wears Short Shorts’ when he was 15) is played by Stephen Ashfield with exceptional naturalness and assurance: he first appears talking about TS Eliot, and goes on to doo-wop in head-to-toe gold lamé. Glenn Carter is sturdily convincing as Tommy DeVito, the dodgy dynamo who gets the band together; Philip Bulcock completely inhabits the quiet fellow who quits: what, he glooms, is the point of being the Ringo of the band?

Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times: Jersey Boys tells the rags-to-riches story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Italian-American quartet of crooners from New Jersey (Noy Joysey) who sold a zillion singles in the early 1960s and whose front man is still performing today…The performances are generally solid, and Ryan Molloy, as Frankie, has a voice that sweeps up from reedy whisper to hard-edged, auditorium-filling falsetto with magnificent ease. Many musical sets nowadays seem to be no more than stark metal stairs and walkways, so performers can run upstairs while singing at the same time, then throw their arms out wide when they get to the top… A little more lushness of scenery wouldn’t go amiss. There is real visual flair, though, in the back projections, with a New Jersey landscape of pylons and cooling towers silhouetted against an industrial orange sky, and big screens above projecting Roy Lichtenstein-style images of couples kissing or big girls crying, with speech bubbles and all.

Rhoda Koenig, The Independent: Sheh-eh-ree! After a dozen false starts and fumbling efforts, the great mating cry of The Four Seasons blasts out to tremendous effect, followed by all those stirring pre-sexual revolution anthems of resentment (“Walk Like a Man”), renunciation (“Dawn, Go Away”), defiant anguish (“Big Girls Don’t Cry”), and gloating threat (“My Boyfriend’s Back”). Jersey Boys has plenty to justify its reception in America, where it is not merely a mega-hit but a franchise.

The effervescent music and the stride-stomp-kick choreography are great fun, the casting is brilliant, and Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman’s chronicle of the boys’ gritty working-class milieu is full of clever lines. My favourite was the one that bursts from an awestruck member of the group when, as if answering their prayers for a catchy name, that of the Four Seasons bowling alley lights up in neon (“It’s a sign!”).

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