Oh What A Night! There’s no better way to shake off the winter blues than watching the blistering five-star musical, Jersey Boys.
The regions begged for years to get Jersey Boys out of its West End bolthole and on the road.
Now you can see why. Last night’s opening at Milton Keynes Theatre saw the audience jump to their feet for a well-deserved ovation.
On two occasions during the show the applause brought the story to a stand-still. It doesn’t get any better than this.
What elevates Jersey Boys head and shoulders above other juke box musicals is the quality of the music and the story. Most shows of this type have some semblance of a tale clumsily stuffed into the quiet slots between one tune and the next.
But here is a true story about a group of blue-collar guys from the wrong side of the tracks, who found their voice by singing on street corners, and turning that sound into a world-wide phenomenon.
Hell, it so impressed Clint Eastwood that he bought the rights and turned it into a hit movie.
More than 30 songs from The Four Seasons back catalogue are included – although the opening may leave you a little baffled.
The show starts with a rapper singing, it turned out in French (it was almost impossible to understand or hear what he was saying,) an on-trend version of Oh What A Night which was apparently big in Paris in 2000.
But fear not. The very nice gentlemen in matching suits soon appear to act, narrate, sing and dance the story of how little Francesco Castelluccio from the Newark projects became a legend.
And the story isn’t sugar-coated. The group never had it easy. The in-fighting, jealousy, gambling and, most of all, crippling debts, are laid bare.
The group was started by Tommy DeVito, his brother Nick and Nicky Massi and they played under a variety of names in-between spells in detention.
Then Tommy discovered Francis whose amazing falsetto was something to behold. Later, after even more name changes, the group were joined by one-hit wonder, songwriter Bob Gaudio.
Still they struggled to find an identity – and a permanent name for themselves.
But one night, after being thrown out of a bowling alley where they had been due to play, they spotted a flashing neon board above a bar called the Four Seasons Lounge.
“It’s a sign!” said Frankie. And the rest is history.
This being “Noo Jersey” there’s mobsters in the background (hey, it’s that kinda place), lots of bars and attitude.
The thick, sometimes impenetrable, Italian-American accents, take a while to get used to but just sit back and enjoy the astounding breadth of talent. The vocals and musicianship is faultless.
The last time I saw Tim Driesen he was playing little Mark Owen in the Take That musical Never Forget.
But tonight, Matthew, he’s Frankie Valli, hitting impossible high notes that no man should ever be able to reach. The singing is astonishing. He bears no resemblance to Valli but Walk Like A Man and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You were real crowd pleasers.
The remaining Four Seasons could have been consigned to coming up with the “doo-waps” and “dum-de-dums” which helped make the group’s iconic sound.
But each role has been beautifully fleshed out. Henry Davis was a stand-in for Tommy and he did a fantastic job. He looked the part and had an easy-going charm which fitted perfectly.
Lewis Griffiths’ beautifully suited and booted Nick Massi was, as the Yanks would say, “A real piece of work”.
I’ve never heard anyone sing or speak with such a deep voice. His basso profondo almost made the stage resonate when he provided backing vocals.
His Massi was also a bit of a character, finally exploding after enduring a decade of sharing hotel rooms with the slobbish DeVito, and always threatening to quit to start his own band.
Sam Ferriday struggled a bit with the accent but more than held his own in the vocal harmonies.
Jersey Boys has a fascinating story to tell, backed by some of the best music generated from America’s East Coast in the last 50 years.
Go see it. Jersey Boys plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until February 14.