Jersey Boys at The Bristol Hippodrome
Well, that’s it! I’ve got chronic earworm for the foreseeable. What about you, Dad?
The music of Frankie Valli and/or The Four Seasons is something that, to a 50 year old, has been around forever. It’s music our parents played, those catchy pop tunes with simple, if sometimes odd, lyrics, Frankie’s voice driving one naturally to attempt to imitate him when singing along to ‘Let’s Hang On’, say, or ‘Oh What a Night’. Until last night at the Hippodrome, I hadn’t given the other three members of the band much thought and it never twigged that the group that was prefixed with Frankie Valli, was completely different to the one that wasn’t. It’s on The Four Seasons that this musical show centres. The story of four men and their rise to superstardom.
Frankie Valli, Tommy Devito and Nick Massi are ordinary Italian-American Jersey lads, brought up and embroiled in the realties of ‘The Mob’. Struggling musicians with excellent voices (Massi’s depth is a fabulous contrast to Valli’s ability to reach almost impossibly high notes) and effortless harmonies. Due to imprisonment, mostly, the line-up and the name of the young band is fluid but, once they’ve met writer and performer Bob Gaudio, the quartet solidifies, the name is changed one final time and Gaudio’s knack with songwriting brings the hits rolling in – their first three releases penned by him went to the top of the Billboard Chart.
This is a plain speaking musical. The band tells the story of The Four Seasons from their own points of view, each sharing personal histories as they see it, so that we get to understand a spectrum of views about life as a member of this particular foursome and how that impacts on everything else, particularly on family life.
Peter Nash does a sterling job of standing in as petulant Tommy Devito, the man who has control issues, probably because he, in turn, is restricted by the Mob. Declan Egan is a sexy mix of brawn and brain and he looks so USA! I fell in love with Nick Massi’s deep, rich voice and would have liked to hear more from him earlier in the show, although focussing on him later on does make sense; being ‘the Ringo of the group’ means he is unjustifiably overlooked. Michael Watson is Frankie Valli and I was left surprised by how such a unique voice as Valli’s could be so well emulated. Together they are the Four Seasons and as sure as summer follows spring, these guys belong together.
When all are on stage performing, electricity flows and fingers click. I need to watch the original four because they really did have their own style – what is it with all that walking on the spot, spring in the step type dancing? The Four Seasons are joined by a solid supporting cast who take on a few roles each and a swing ensemble that completes the excitement up there on stage. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more from female band The Angels or the like because ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ was quite a treat.
Marshall Brickman and Rick Ellice’s writing keeps the plot moving at a decent pace and because the duo actually interviewed three of The Seasons, you really do get a sense that this is a clear representation of the group. The Four Seasons may have been passed over by writers until Jersey Boys came along but Brickman and Ellice have rectified that. With that quality of music, it could be argued, the lives of the people themselves isn’t so important. But I’m glad I know some of the history as I see them in a new light. Coupled with having watched Bohemian Rhapsody at the cinema this week, I aim to pay more attention to the backbone of musical groups and see each individual, instead of focussing all attention on the one with the extraordinary talent (your Valli or Mercury).
A fun evening with songs that will stick in my head for a long time, Jersey Boys is one I’d happily sit through again.
Jersey Boys plays at The Bristol Hippodrome until 17th November