One of the most successful of the compilation shows is Jersey Boys, telling the story of the Four Seasons, Frankie Valli and just about every song they ever performed. The show is still playing in London and I caught up with the touring company in Oxford. This was, without any doubt, one of the most exciting performances of this material I have ever witnessed. The touring show is a clone of the original; but the energy of this cast, their commitment and joy; and their ability to communicate with the live audience is simply breathtaking. I’ve seen the film by Clint Eastwood, which is very good; but the experience of these specific performances live in the theatre is definitely of more memorable and exciting.
For those who have not seen the show, it has a kind of Brechtian Theatre of Alienation approach that makes a somewhat surreal but completely compelling frame for hearing all the music. The direction by Des McAnuff is clever, apt and keeps the pace of the show at a pitch that matches the songs; the choreography is often a witty reminder of the period in which the show is necessarily set; and the simple sets and costumes are cleverly evocative of that period too.
Above all the cast is exemplary in its acting and its singing. Sam Ferriday plays a grounded, sane Bob Gaudio. Lewis Griffiths is strong and appealing as Nick Massi. Stephen Webb is gripping, compelling and bad-boy brilliant as Tommy DeVito, conveying the con-man charm of a self-destructive, unreliable artist. Matt Gillett is fine as Bob Crewe. The women are all strongly delineated, especially the roles played by Leanne Garretty, Sinead Long and Amelia Adams-Pearce. Damian Buhagier is a believable Joe Pesci and wonderfully comic.
But above all the evening belong to Tim Driesen who is completely convincing Frankie Valli in every way. He is not simply impersonating Valli; he seems to become the man and there isn’t a moment when he is not compelling. His vocals are astonishing and brilliant. And in a long evening, Driesen’s energy never flags.
The show is a demanding one for all the performers, many of whom are playing several roles. Their energy astonishes and conveys itself to the audience. The music is totally infectious as well as nostalgic. It’s an excellent indeed. I came out feeling energised, delighted, playing the songs over and over again in my head and wanting more. And, I have to say, I left the theatre thinking that this touring production might just have an edge on the West End version.