Theatre review - Jersey Boys, Palace Theatre Manchester

The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys 2019
Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys 2019 Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg - Credit: Archant

Oh! What a night! Jersey Boys is just brilliant, a celebration of a time and a place and the most unforgettable songs

Frank Valli (Michael Watson) in Jersey Boys
Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Frank Valli (Michael Watson) in Jersey Boys Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg - Credit: Archant

When people mention Jersey Boys, you fall into one of two camps – you’ve heard of it and hear it’s good, or you have seen it and know it’s good. Very good. I, after last night’s show, now fall into camp two and can say it’s quite brilliant.

Many musicals of this type, using a back catalogue of big hits the audience all know and love, are little more than a weak story wrapped around big songs. This one is wholly different – it’s an amazing story, and the songs are integral to the telling.

Michael Watson as Frankie Valli
Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Michael Watson as Frankie Valli Credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg - Credit: Archant

The story of The Four Seasons is a complex one. Unlike most ‘boy bands’, they were neither childhood friends or brought together by a record label with an eye for the right look. The only thing that linked these guys was their place of birth – New Jersey. Tommy DeVito and Nick Massey were repeat offenders who new the US penal system from personal experience. Bob Gaudio was a young musical prodigy, feared one-hit-wonder seeking his next success and Frankie Valli was a young man who could go either way – training as a barber, he wasn’t averse to a little naughtiness either. And of course, there was the Mob angle. Treated carefully in the show, there’s no doubt that it wasn’t only Sinatra (another New Jersey graduate) who had ties to the mafia.

An unusual, but highly effective, approach is taken in the way their story is shared. Rather than the audience simply watching it unfold, the story written from the perspective of a biographer, each member of the band steps forward and speaks to the audience himself. First we meet Tommy DeVito, who with his unmistakeable New Joisey accent and dark Italian good looks sets the scene to perfection. DeVito was last night played by Peter Nash, who was truly excellent. This man is the definition of a dodgy character; in and out of prison, always looking for the fast buck, desperate to control everything, yet unable to control his gambling, he was the man who brought the group together - and then destroyed it. Even when he’s telling his side of the story, he can’t put enough spin on it to make himself likable.

Each of the quartet step forward with their own version of events, building a picture of a lack of cohesion, of friendship and genuine care for one another, that makes the end inevitable. The only thing that binds them is their place of birth – and this is both a good thing and a disastrous one.

If you’re looking for a jolly tale of nice people making nice music and a good singalong, don’t bother. If you want to see how real people made some of the best and most enduring music of the twentieth century, this is the show for you. Oh, and the music!

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Michael Watson as Frankie Valli is just outstanding. His voice is incredible, his delivery spot on. When he sings Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, you can hear hearts thud louder across the auditorium.

You will laugh, often, you will feel uplifted by every song, you will understand the heartbreak of loss, you will feel the frustration of betrayal…and you will love every minute of it.

Jersey Boys plays at The Palace Theatre Manchester until Saturday 16 February.