Review: Jersey Boys at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Seven years after its Broadway opening, Vancouver residents finally had the opportunity to experience the long-running, Tony-winning musical, Jersey Boys yesterday evening (also soon-to-be-a-film). The show, a biography of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons told using their own songs, is an enormous spectacle of theatricality, an exquisitely crafted evening of pop music, and an experience well-worth-the-wait, based on its rapturous reception by the audience in attendance.
When Jersey Boys first arrived in 2005, Broadway was in the grip of a jukebox musical trend, with producers shoehorning various bands’ catalogues into successful shows like Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You, and Movin’ Out, and less successful outings, such as Lennon, Ring of Fire, and The Times They are A-Changin’. Rather than putting Four Seasons songs into an original plot, the producers instead elected to take the Buddy Holly Story approach and tell the true story of the band.
It is an approach that simply feels right for the music and plays into why the show continues to enjoy such success, even while the jukebox musical trend has cooled.
Appropriately, the story is divided into four seasons, with each being told by a different band member. In spring, founder Tommy Devito tells how he brought the band together. For summer, young composer Bob Gaudio charts their rise to stardom. In fall, pensive bass Nick Massi details how things began to fall apart. Frontman Frankie Valli finishes with winter, where he is the only original member still performing.
The show is full of scenes so common to music industry stories as to be almost mythical – the boys from the bad part of town who escape through art; the inspired genius who invokes jealousy; inner-band conflict over a woman; sudden success eradicating the ability to live moderately; and families left at home who suffer.
These subjects have the potential to come off as immensely clichéd, but Jersey Boys avoids this by telling the story with straightforward, almost tender, sincerity. This is all the more impressive when one considers Bob Gaudio had an active hand in its creation and could easily have glossed over the more negative chapters.
Of course, every story ultimately comes to rest upon the skill of its teller, and in this regard the cast does not slouch – from tight, beautifully stacked harmonies, to crisp, doo-wop-inspired choreography, to a never-lagging pace. The term ‘Triple Threat’ is bandied around far too much these days, but it is a term that certainly does justice to each and every member of the Jersey Boys cast.
At the helm, in the role of Frank Valli, is the immensely gifted young performer Nick Cosgrove. Having completed a mandatory six weeks of training at ‘Camp Frankie,’ he absolutely inhabits the part. With his clear-as-a-bell tone and chill-inducing falsetto, one could easily forget they were watching a play and not the Frankie Valli.
Jersey Boys is a splashy spectacle of a show in the tradition of grand Broadway musicals. Tinged with nostalgia and polished to a sheen, this production has a beating heart that drives an enormously entertaining evening of theatre.