Wednesday, 30 October 2013

'Jersey Boys' at the Prince Edward Theatre

At the weekend I saw 'Jersey Boys', the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I've been puzzled about how long it's been playing so far and never thought the Four Seasons were really that big in the UK and then I heard the songs and realised that I knew many of them. I suppose they just flew under the radar?

I knew 'Jersey Boys' was a jukebox musical, but didn't know that it really was a jukebox with song after song after song with little narrative in-between songs. The speed of the thing was a bit frustrating at first as was the absence of any real attempt at characterisation or plot but, on reflection, that's not such a bad thing.

We're presented with an empty stage with a scaffold walkway at the back and stairs down to the stage. Props are wheeled on at great speed and even quicker to be wheeled off. The pace is fast and then we're given a song, another prop rises from the trapdoors or is wheeled on and we get another song, an instant set change with another song. And so on. Bam bam bam. Change props, change costumes and cue another song. I don't know why but it took me most of the first half to stop being shocked by the speed and pace, always running to try to keep up. But, y'know what? I enjoyed it.

The story takes place over 25-30 years as we see the Four Seasons coming together and then having hit after hit, getting into trouble, growing up and then splitting. The actors never age or reflect the years changing in any way - they wear suits throughout and keep the same hair styles. I only became aware of the passing of the years when Frankie rings his 19 year old runaway daughter at one point. He's gone from little more than a child himself to fathering a 19 year old. Where was disco Frankie in his white waistcoat and trousers with curley (permed?) hair that I remember from Top Of The Pops?

The actors all had nice voices that blended well and they worked together nicely, with good rapport. They're clearly well practiced and terribly professional but the repetitive dance routines got a bit wearying - surely they had more than two routines in all their years together? But perhaps I'm being nit-picky.

Ultimately, a show like this will stand or fall on the quality of the songs in the jukebox and it's longevity is a testimony to the Four Seasons songs. Considering they got together before I was born I was surprised to realise that I knew so many of them - 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry', 'Walk Like A Man', 'Rag Doll', and, in the 1970s, 'Who Loves You' and 'December 1963 (Oh What A Night)'. Then there were the ones I knew but didn't realise the originals were by the Four Seasons including 'Bye Bye Baby' (the Bay City Rollers), 'Can't Take My Eyes off You' (which I always thought was an Andy Williams original) and 'My Eyes Adored You' (by every male singer).

There was definitely an age thing going on with the over-50s dominating the audience and they clearly wanted to have a good time. Clapping and singing along, at one point I wanted to remind the people behind me that it wasn't really the Four Seasons on stage, that they were actors and this was a theatre and not a concert hall. But that would've been churlish. It's always a good thing when people enjoy their theatre but there are limits people. The age thing was emphasised by the queue for the gents at half-time and at the end.

The tickets are generally at silly prices but if you're at a loss for something to do one evening then you could do worse than pick 'Jersey Boys' for some non-stop entertainment and some memorable songs.

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