Review Jersey Boys

Review: Jersey Boys, Trafalgar Theatre

Review: Jersey Boys, Trafalgar Theatre

Jenny Booth reviews: “The central performance by recent drama school graduate Ben Joyce as Frankie is a triumph.”


There are people who know the lyrics to a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons song, and then there is everyone else who simply didn’t realise that that was who recorded “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)”, “Bye Bye Baby” and “Working My Way Back To You”. For decades the Four Seasons provided the soundtrack to ordinary, blue-collar life in America, and in Britain too. Foot-tapping, sing-along-with-the-radio music for people flipping burgers and working at gas stations, not hippy social conscience music from bands like the Beatles, as one of the characters of Jersey Boys boasts.

Masculine as a jockstrap, Jersey Boys is the story of the Four Seasons’ rise to fame from the poor, crime-ridden neighbourhoods of New Jersey, where the streets are policed by the mob. Wide-eyed kid Frankie with his unique falsetto voice is recruited into a band by local wide boy Tommy de Vito, a small-time crook who is always leaving behind him a trail of unpaid bills and brushes with the law. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s script is rare in the bowdlerised world of jukebox musicals, for not merely leaving in the discreditable stuff that other such tales brush under the carpet, but positively revelling in it – spells in jail; robbing convenience stores; breaking and entering – including into a church to use the organ for singing practice; mounting debts; and the night teenage musical prodigy Bob Gaudio lost his virginity in a brothel (“We have lift-off!” his fellow band members gleefully chant behind the door).

The job of narrating the story is split between each of the four band members in turn, and they contradict and complain about each other – an unusual method of story-telling that adds to the air of warts-and-all truthfulness. Benjamin Yates as Tommy goes first, and he stands out as an engagingly wicked narrator with a triangular smile – the show feels his loss when he finally gets himself into more trouble with the mob than he can handle, and fades out in the second half. The central performance by recent drama school graduate Ben Joyce as Frankie is a triumph. His falsetto voice is true and Joyce more than any of the others conveys the sense of growing up and eventually growing old in a storyline that sweeps from the 1950s to the present day. Adam Bailey commands the stage as Bob, the calm and sensible one who wrote the hits, and Karl James Wilson entertains as a broodingly shallow Nick Massi. Melanie Bright as Frankie’s wife Mary, Koko Nasigara and Helen Ternent do the best they can with their limited lines, but it’s a man’s show.

On a pared back set the action whirls along, intertwined with tightly choreographed song and dance. We get no particular emotional depth as relationships collapse and families go off the rails while the band is touring on the road – the show spends the same amount of time fantasising about a new red Cadillac convertible as it does on the death of Valli’s daughter – but we do get plenty of wise-cracking and point-scoring, and this is frankly a load more fun than soul-searching.

Trafalgar Theatre, until 2 October

Image: Mark Senior