Review: Jersey Boys

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From the show-opening ‘Ces soirées-là’ (‘Oh What a Night’) the French rap hit of 2000, the proof that the legacy of the Four Seasons still lives on is undeniable. The energy of Jersey Boys starts high and gets only higher, with hit after masterful hit rolling off the stage and into the welcoming arms of the audience.

Since Jersey Boys first hit Broadway in 2005 the show has been a non-stop sensation.  It tells the true story of the formation of  a rock’n’roll legend when, in the early 1960s, young singer Frankie Valli’s potential is recognized by petty gangsters Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, and together with squeaky clean songwriter Bob Gaudio, the four of them launch The Four Seasons.  At a cracking pace, the story describes the band’s formation, success and eventual break-up, through a variety of their much-loved hits and a story liberally garnished with hilarious one-liners delivered with an acerbic New Jersey wit.

The ‘self-suaved’ Tommy  DeVito (Daniel Buys), with his well-oiled hair, suit and his intimidating ‘tough-guy’ Jersey accent, launches the adventure and the ‘Spring’ quarter of the story, with each of the others leading the narration for the subsequent ‘Summer’, ‘Fall’ and ‘Winter’ of the band.  For South African audiences, it is like David Kramer and Taliep Petersen’s Kat and the Kings on steroids.

Grant Almirall as Frankie Valli has a particularly tough job of singing in falsetto, but does a superb job, capturing Valli’s earnest innocence as well as his radiant talent.  Emmanuel Castis as Nick Massi  – bass voice and bass player of the band – also presents Massi’s rock solid character and delivers his straightman funny lines with perfect timing. And the sweet-faced Kenneth Meyer is ideal in the role of the spotlight-shunning Bob Gaudio.

Above and beyond the central foursome is a small cast which plays a multitude of admirable supporting roles, though Charlie Bouguenon as gangster Gyp de Carlo and Duane Alexander as producer Bob Crewe deserve particular mention for pitching caricature roles spot on.

The scenes change repeatedly in a breathtakingly slick fashion. Microphone stands slide magically across the stage, street lamps, car bonnets and church crosses appear out of nowhere, while nightlights, tables and chairs are brought to the stage with such flawless transition thanks to scenic designer, Klara Zieglerova, that the action never misses a beat. Great use of pop art and lighting and original footage all helps to create the era, from the chilly sidewalks to the dusty basement studios to the razzle dazzle of showbusiness in the 60s and 70s.

Jersey Boys is ingeniously delivered and includes a few spectacular technical surprises for the audience.  But more than that this is a story, as writer Rick Elice describes, with “love and hate, poverty and power, music and money, revenge and betrayal, organized crime and random punishment… it’s like Shakespeare.  With some really great songs.”  So good, the theatre should set up a golden circle.

Lauren Vogt

Jersey Boys runs at the Artscape Theatre until 14 July 2013.

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