Jersey Boys, Prince Edward Theatre, London
Thursday 20 March 2008
As a genre, the jukebox musical can be relied on to throw up more junk than most. The back catalogue of no pop group or artiste is now safe from theatre producers hungry to make a lazy buck.
But what about Jersey Boys, which lands in London brandishing four Tony Awards? This pop-compilation show adopts a straightforward biographical approach as it follows the Italian-American guys who eventually became The Four Seasons from the streets of New Jersey to induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was the Sixties group with the Fifties doo-wop-influenced sound and the falsetto of Frankie Valli and Jersey Boys delivers the goods whenever the fine stand-in singers are allowed to fly with the magnificently catchy musical material. But after a mischievous start in Paris, 2000 with a French rap version of "Oh, What a Night" ("Ces Soirées-Là"), Jersey Boys flips back to the start of the saga and keeps us waiting through about 40 minutes of bewilderingly detailed background about the group's struggle to achieve recognition, before treating us to an elating blast of "Sherry", their first big hit.
Drolly complemented by projections of Roy Lichtenstein-style Pop Art cartoons, Des McAnuff's vigorous production flows slickly on its rudimentary industrial-scaffolding set. And in strong, soaring voice, Ryan Molloy skilfully intensifies the emotional power as the diminutive Frankie over an evening that embraces brushes with the Mob, a failed marriage, and betrayal by one of his partners, the disreputable Tommy DeVito (Glenn Carter), whose debts he slaves to pay off.
But while the songs touch a deep nerve, the idea of Jersey and many of the cultural references fail to stir the requisite strength of emotion in a British audience. The show's knockout moments are all musical, as when the brass section troops on in laid-back glory during the rapturous rendition of the big comeback song "Can't Take My Eyes off You". Too good to be true? In general, Jersey Boys is more a case of "Oh, What a Faintly Frustrating Night".
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