Jersey Boys review: America's fab four back in harmony

Jersey Boys
Capitol Theatre, September 6

★★★½

Britain had the Beatles and the US the Four Seasons. Four lads from the blue-collar streets of their sixties-era industrial towns eager to escape the grime along their Atlantic shores.

Fab four: Glaston Toft, Ryan Gonzalez, Thomas McGuane and Cameron MacDonald.

Photo: Jeff Busby

There are parallels in their rags to riches story, but with the Four Seasons only singer Frankie Valli became a household name.

Jersey Boys fills out the roles all four members played in the phenomenal success of the band who always knew who their audience was – the kids flipping burgers. Not for them any psychedelic experimentation, flowers in their hair or political controversies.

The Four Seasons took time to settle on their name, but they did not change with the musical seasons. Once they found their upbeat pop formula, they stuck to it.

This is a return season for the musical last seen in Sydney in 2010. And what a slick, fast-paced and well-oiled production it is.

From the opening bars of Oh What a Night, the jukebox musical is a crash-course in the band's back catalogue and boys' hard-scrabble Italian-American lives.

The first half belongs less to Valli than to the band's founder, the fast-talking, rat-cunning Tommy DeVito, a petty crim with mob connections. DeVito narrates the segues between the songs and draws Valli into the band.

Valli is naive and initially unprepossessing, an unlikely frontman. Ah, but that voice. It's a ringing high falsetto that reduces even a mobster to tears. By the time the band performs Sherry, the show - which took a while to get going - truly takes off.

The band's success and distinctive harmonic sound owes much to bandmember/songwriter Bob Gaudio and producer-lyricist Bob Crewe who penned such songs such as Big Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like a Man. These are delivered with great style.

The first half is packed with songs, but slight on backstory. The second is more satisfying in that respect. By then the mounting financial woes, the toll on marriages and on each other of constant touring reach a crisis.

This is very much a boys-own story. And in that some of the cracks of this musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2005, are beginning to show. Valli's wife Mary Delgado is more caricature than flesh and blood character. Their troubled daughter's tragedy provides the emotional low of the show, although she figures only briefly. The result is the show feels somewhat lacking in heart.

Ryan Gonzalez, who sang Valli on opening night, took time to hit his stride, but when he did his falsetto voice was a joy to the ears. He brought a touch of shy vulnerability to the role.

Cameron MacDonald's is outstanding as the larger than life pugnacious, excitable DeVito. He is a perfect foil for Thomas McGuane's Bob Gaudio, the band's calm centre, the only Italian who doesn't care for drama.

Glaston Toft as bandmember Nick Massi delivers the comic high point in his dummy-spit about the horrors of sharing hotel rooms with DeVito, whose crimes include leaving bathtowels in a soggy heap.

In the fine supporting cast Glenn Hill stood out as as Bob Crewe, the overtly gay character in an era when homophobia ruled.

Kiara Zieglerova's set of industrial scaffolding frames the action and back projections of Roy Lichtenstein-like pop art images and an Ed Sullivan show clip anchor the show in the sixties.

The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice employs some sharp one-liners and the musical direction by Luke Hunter is taut.

Jersey Boys was a huge success when it first appeared on Broadway and played for 11 years. In its wake have come a series of bio-musicals, including productions about The Seekers, Carole King, and Donna Summer. With a Michael Jackson musical in the pipeline, this is a rich seam to mine for babyboomer audiences.

Those Jersey Boys are still on a roll.

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