Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical everyone has heard of but hasn’t seen. After writing a preview for this production, I had a general idea of the synopsis. The familiar tracklist had me aching to watch the performance, and what a soundtrack it was.
I was surprised to find many other theatre-goers knew the name, Jersey Boys, and of its successes, but never had the fancy to go and see it. The story, I assumed, to be some barbershop-style musical based in the ’50s without much grit. I could not have been more mistaken.
Admittedly the first 15 minutes of the performance didn’t pull me in like other shows I’ve seen. The starting numbers didn’t match the reminiscent music collection I was promised. Meanwhile, the story seemed to jump hither and thither.
The pop art screen, placed behind and chronicling the events of Jersey Boys, distracted my attention from the initial plot. I’ve always found pop art something I could take or leave. Obviously, the 1950s origin of the style was of timely significance, but I felt it clashed with the running themes and colours associated with Jersey Boys.
Dalton Wood (Carole – The Music of Carole King), who played Tommy DeVito, was an initial stand-out. Tommy toys with leading the group as a ‘big brother’ and causing them strife. His mistakes render him in severe debt, which the group suffers for. To make matters worse, Tommy flirts with the second love of his ‘brother’ – Frankie (yes, Frankie Valli); yet, I still found my eyes would follow Tommy more than the other members.
Perhaps because he begins the narration, which the boys share between them through different sections (or “seasons”) of the show, but Tommy is first. More probable is that the talent of Dalton Wood, his seamless swagger and power over the stage, is why I found myself so captivated. Wood’s absorbing portrayal of an arrogant, young criminal worked alongside the ’50s New Jersey attitude.
Under Tommy’s recruitment – Frankie Valli, played by Ryan Heenan (The Burnt Part Boys, The Sound of Music), joined the timeline. This is where I began to truly enjoy myself. Heenan, who plays Valli at certain performances, reminded me of Kurt Hummel (a young singer with an impressive vocal range, for those who weren’t Glee fans). Flooded with nostalgia, Heenan’s voice took me aback. I had doubts about whether his talent could match that of Valli, but with every song, his voice grew. Within a moment, I understood my earlier disappointment about the seemingly slow start. The function of the play is to visually translate how the Four Seasons (or the Jersey Boys) flourish alongside their music.
The performance became increasingly more entertaining and gladsome with the success and character development of the group. Audience enthusiasm mirrored the growth of the Boys as people and as artists.
All of the cast was superb, but I particularly noted the performance of Damien Winchester (Drifter in Beautiful, Swing). Damien is credited for the roles of “Barry (and others)”, but whoever he was portraying, he emanated energy and personality. I attended the show with Theatre section’s Head Editor, Jay Darcy, and in his words, Damien “chewed up the scenery”. I couldn’t agree more; Damien’s verve was infectious.
Overall, this toe-tapping rendition of Jersey Boys won over the crowd – both its avid fans and newbies like me. The music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is more familiar to the ear than most would expect. From karaoke to commercials, favourites like ‘Beggin’’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, and ‘Bye Bye Baby (Goodbye)’ were standouts that broke the audience into a compulsive sing-a-long. With the odd few over-fifties standing up and giving their best booze-influenced, rock ‘n’ roll moves. A real family pleaser with charmingly more depth than expected.
Jersey Boys is playing at Manchester Opera House until October 29 and tours the UK until late April 2023.