Expect the unexpected, that’s the best advice of Jersey Boys, currently running at The Liverpool Empire, because what you are going to be served up is not a sickly sweet homage to one of the finest Rock ‘n’ Roll bands of all time – even though Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons undoubtedly are – but rather an honest story of ups and downs that will inspire, invigorate and encapsulate everything good and bad about the pursuit of the so called “American Dream”.
And who knew Joe Pesci was ever involved with the rise to fame of The Four Seasons??
Another surprise is the language used. This show is not for the easily offended; sort of like The Sopranos meets Goodfellas, but without the gore … though even this is often implied. A story with a soft centre Jersey Boys most definitely is not and, like it or not, the dialogue fits and isn’t used as lazy punctuation, which is a relief.
Struggling against a tide often laced with poison – not unlike spawning salmon – here was a band that rose to the top, then sank then rose again and what the writers, choreographers and – possibly above all – director Des McAnuff has brought to life is the sense of oneness that the music … yes, THE MUSIC … means to so many people; the downright soul, craft and resonance of it that echoes across the years. A good song, after all, lives in the moment, but a great song lives a lifetime and marks the personal instant it was first heard forever.
Naturally to ensnare the times, a pretty stunning set will be required … right? Well, no. What’s offered here is a pretty run of the mill scaffold aided and abetted by a giant screen and some superb, lightening quick costume changes of the highest order.
What’s clever though is that this minimalistic approach brings the audience in superbly, so that each anecdote is personally delivered and so makes “us” a part of The Four Seasons’ rich tapestry. This is never more apparent than when they are asked to perform live on TV and we are not treated to footage, but rather the cast themselves performing real time, live and large … warts and all.
The cast are totally faultless, too, with stand in Bob Gaudio, Dan Krikler, delivering one of the finest performances to have been seen at The Empire this year. His delivery, confidence, ability to hold the stage and, above all, voice – particularly during Cry For Me – are completely mesmerising.
Lewis Griffiths’ superb, laconic, deep throated Nick Massi, Matt Gillett’s disturbingly Epstein-esque Bob Crewe and the wannabe father figure that is Tommy DeVito, here played with fabulous over / under statement by Stephen Webb, all add guts, edge and overall depth to a piece that might otherwise drift all too easily into a small town called Schmaltz, but never does.
The music and the voice of the undisputed star of the show that is Tim Driesen as Frankie Valli is just one major reason why. His character’s persona may admittedly be flawed, but there is absolutely nothing to criticise in the way Driesen performs the role of the high pitched master of so many songs, to mention them all would be composing a lifelong soundtrack for some, but most of which feature here superbly.
In short, Jersey Boys is nothing but a rollercoaster of a journey that will have you laughing, crying but – ultimately – out of your seats and dancing at the end. Indeed it is near impossible, really, to say just how good this production is without drifting into cliché, so I’ll leave the obvious alone and simply say … GO!
Liverpool Empire Theatre
June 23 – July 24, 2015
Director: Des McAnuff
Cast Includes: Tim Driesen, Dan Krikler, Lewis Griffiths,Matt Gillett, Stephen Webb, Amelia Adams-Pierce, Damian Buhagiar, Nathaniel Morrison
Running Time: 2 hrs 40 mins
PR Rating: ***** Oh What A Night (Doh!!)