West End favourite Jersey Boys has arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre as part of a UK tour. The show has won 57 major awards worldwide and been seen by over 25 million people. It tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons who had a string of hits on both sides of the Atlantic during the sixties and seventies after a tough upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey.
The foursome became one of the most successful bands in pop history, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and sold 175 million records worldwide, all before they turned 30. Watching this show, you might be surprised by how many well known songs were originally recorded by the Four Seasons – from the karaoke anthem Can’t Take My Eyes Off You to wedding disco favourite December 1963 (Oh What A Night) and Madcon’s recent hit Beggin’.
Frankie Valli’s distinctive falsetto voice and the band’s ‘easy listening’ pop sound proved a major hit in the sixties and although they lacked the ‘coolness’ of the Beatles or the Stones, they had no shortage of fans. The show charts their highs and lows struggling with debt collectors, jail sentences and bust-ups as they hit the big time. But as one of the first big hit jukebox musicals, it’s the songs which take centre stage with a live band performing all their hits, including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Working My Way Back to You – all complete with authentic, awkward choreography. My favourite was the marching on the spot dance for Walk Like A Man, a sort of static Moonwalk!
There were excellent performances from the four main characters. Michael Watson as Frankie Valli and Simon Bailey as Tommy De Vito have both played the roles in the West End, and for Wednesday’s press night, James Winter played Bob Gaudio and Karl James Wilson was Nick Massi.
Scene changes are seamless as microphones and tables slide magically across the stage and the songs seem to flow naturally through the show. At times, the plot seems to be a little rushed in between the songs, but the show certainly gives the audience what they came for – plenty of sing-along hits and nostalgia.
This show is as slick and polished as the smartly dressed pop stars themselves. It was at times, though, a little too polished, and it felt like some scenes were performed on auto-pilot with enough energy to give an acceptable performance but lacking a real spark. Fans of the hits will love this show and anyone else won’t be disappointed but I suspect the half of the audience who didn’t join in the standing ovation at the end weren’t completely blown away by the show.
Jersey Boys is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 3 February with performances at 7.30pm and 2.30pm on Thursday and Saturday. Tickets from £18