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Review Round-up: Do Jersey Boys Translate Well?

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The Tony Award-winning hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, opened at the Prince Edward Theatre last night (18 March, previews from 28 February) starring Ryan Molloy, Stephen Ashfield, Glenn Carter and Philip Bulcock as the original band members (See Also Today’s WOS TV). The production is currently booking to 31 March 2009.

The musical follows four boys on their journey from the wrong side of the tracks in the state of New Jersey to international success as pop music sensation The Four Seasons. The band wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were 30.

Amongst their many hits included in the show are “Sherry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, “Working My Way Back to You” and “Who Loves You”. The musical has been written by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman and uses the original music written by band member Bob Gaudio.

Following a four month try-out run in La Jolla, California, Jersey Boys opened in November 2005 at Broadway’s August Wilson Theater, where it continues to sell out. In 2006 it won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The West End production reunites the Broadway creative team, led by director Des McAnuff. Choreography is by Sergio Trujillo and design by Klara Zieglerova.

First night critics agreed that this “no-frills production” absolutely “deserves to thrive”, though some worried that some questioned its long-term resonance for British audiences and one feared it “may be an American import too many”. Of the cast, Ryan Molloy was repeatedly singled out for his “powerhouse of a voice”, which makes him “sing like a man possessed” as Valli. Nevertheless, it was the myriad Four Seasons hits - “sheer joy from start to finish” - which really had the critics dancing in the aisles despite some “clunkingly awful lines” of dialogue.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - “’We put New Jersey on the map’ does not carry quite the same rallying-cry punch on Old Compton Street as it does in Manhattan, but this irresistible Broadway import – it opened there in November 2005 – carries a world of New York Italian mob culture on its tuxedoed shoulders. The dynamics in the quartet form the energy for the songs, which are sheer joy from start to finish. Ryan Molloy conveys brilliantly that furtive little bad boy side of Valli; and his voice is a miracle of throbbing, tearful falsetto, some weird manifestation that added pop hysteria to Johnny Mathis and prefigured both the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees. With great backing musicians and good sound arrangements, the second act peaks with the gorgeous staging of that imperishable classic ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, brass players marching on in the middle eight while Frankie soars to ecstatic fulfilment, and an eerily smoke-filled reunion concert with the boys rising like waxen effigies to discharge ‘Rag Doll’.”
    • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Jukebox musicals normally get a rough ride from the critics, but Jersey Boys, built on the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, emphatically deserves to thrive here as it has already done in New York. There are a host of excellent gags (I particularly liked Gaudio's delighted realisation when he finally loses his virginity that sex really is better when two people are involved), and Des McAnuff's strong, no-frills production, with its clever use of pop art imagery, is full of heart and humanity. But it is the music most people will go for, and it is delivered with high fidelity, from cheesy novelty numbers to classic smash hits. Ryan Molloy superbly mimics Valli's soaring falsetto, as well as capturing the singer's pain and resilience. Glenn Carter is excellent as the go-getting, recklessly spendthrift Tommy DeVito who finds himself edged out of his own band, and there is fine support from Stephen Ashfield as the honourable, educated Bob Gaudio and Philip Bulcock as the hilariously finicky bass player, Nick Massi. Overpaid, oversexed and over here, it will, I suspect, be some time before London says Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye) to the phenomenal Jersey Boys."
    • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (three stars) – “After those sagging lines of hagio-graphic tribute musicals to old rock 'n' rollers and bland bands, what a refreshing change to meet up with this Broadway triumph. Des McAnuff's slickly animated production takes far too long to reach the glory days, having spent excessive time with Carter's DeVito, the tough-talking, self-admiring founder who recruits Frankie and song-writer, Stephen Ashfield's oddly insipid Bob Gaudio. The show does, however, at last fly high with some of those hit anthems, dynamically staged. Molloy exercises an arresting, powerhouse of a voice that ascends from tenor to falsetto in emotional bounds and scores with ‘Fallen Angel’, sung for Frankie's dead daughter, his back to the audience. It is Frankie, too, who vainly fights to keep the group together, while Philip Bulcock's ironically charismatic yet peripheral group member charts the reasons for the group's break-up with laconic flippancy. Still, I do doubt whether Jersey Boys will make it over here. The life-stories and the songs strike me as being curiously timeless, remote and unreverberative for British audiences. This may be an American import too many.”
    • Benedict Nightingale in The Times – “Compendium shows, meaning musicals whose plots are usually an excuse to douse the ears of nostalgia freaks with archaic hits, aren’t my favourite tipple. But there’s good reason why Jersey Boys is about to enter its third year on Broadway and is now crossing the pond. It has the character, the narrative interest and the sense of place – as the backcloth indicates, the industrial badlands west of the Hudson River – to rise way above its genre. There’s no doubting the background of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito and the other members of a group that had a New Jersey bowling alley and not Vivaldi in mind when in 1962 it changed its name from the Four Lovers to the Four Seasons. In one of several amusing asides, the Beatles are dismissed as invaders whose fans put flowers in their hair and try to levitate the Pentagon. The point about Valli and his chums is that they sang to ‘the guys flipping burgers and pumping gas and the girls behind the counter at the diner’. They had a blue-collar feel as well as the high-octane energy that, last night, movingly ended with a wizened shrimp of a man coming on stage and hugging Molloy, Glenn Carter, Stephen Ashfield and the rest of Des McAnuff’s cast. Yes, it was Frankie Valli.”
    • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (four stars) - “There are two remarkable things about Jersey Boys, the Frankie Valli bio-musical. The first is the fluting voice of Ryan Molloy, who plays 1960s pop canary Valli and sings like a man possessed. The second is the fact that a show with quite so many cliches and such a humdrum plot still manages to elicit a tear or two. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite some clunkingly awful lines (eg, a girl dumps Frankie with the explanation, 'I gotta get off the merry-go-round, Frankie, it's no fun any more'). The staging is ceaselessly busy with screens whizzing on and off, sometimes filling with Roy Liechtenstein-style cartoons. At one point a huge bank of lights turns blindingly on the audience. Ouch! Frankie's fellow Seasons, led by bad-boy Tommy (Glenn Carter) are an engaging bunch and gel pretty well. It is just about possible to believe that these lads were America's unfussy, working-class answer to the Beatles. Some of the language is unnecessarily bad - the producers should not sell tickets to under-teens. But when the music is this good you can forgive a show almost anything.”

      - by Melissa Rynn & Kate Jackson

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