Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Theatre Review: What a triumphant night!

Jersey Boys: the Story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. At the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Viewed on 14th July 2010. Running until 22nd August 2010.

The Toronto iteration of the global musical phenomenon, "Jersey Boys," became the longest-running show to play at its venue on 30th April, entertained its millionth customer less than a month later, and will have played to packed houses for more than two years by the end of its Canadian season. And little wonder.

Not only does the iconic music of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons translate extremely well to the stage, the musical's writers were ingenious enough to combine an enlightening Hollywood biopic, as narrated by the Seasons themselves, with spiffed-up theatrical replays of their back catalogue. The potted history of the band may have been simplified somewhat to make room for the Broadway numbers - two groups of characters represent an ever-revolving cast of artists - but the result is still a sophisticated, modern drama. The script modulates perfectly from zestful wit to dark seriousness, humanely addressing some of the more unglamorous aspects of the Seasons' lives, such as Frankie Valli's troubled family relationship and the band members' dropout lifestyles before they hit the big time.

The Four Seasons convince in their roles, having all honed that New Jersey drawl: Quinn VanAntwerp injects passion into a Bob Gaudio determined to champion songwriting as an art and not commercial business, refusing to cave into the interests of producers unwilling to pick up his next composition. (In a stark irony, the piece would become the runaway success and much-covered "Can't Take My Eyes Off You.") The resemblance between Jeff Madden's falsetto and Valli's own is chilling. But the real stars of the show are the songs, which are exhilaratingly performed. Classic hits, such as "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and of course, "December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)," are consciously designed to recreate the live Seasons concert experience, complete with horn section at one point, to stunning effect. There are some neat stylistic touches too: when the band makes their TV debut, a screen broadcasts the images shot in real time on the stage in faux black-and-white, seemingly in nostalgia for an era when MTV videos were yet to choke our living-room sets.

Television and music may have moved on since that first appearance, but the sounds of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons continue to endure beyond the transience of modern pop, symbolising an age when your integrity to songmaking was all that counted. The winning ensemble of "Jersey Boys" prove the group's timeless appeal; you will probably leave the theatre with a Sixties swing in your step.

Rating: *****/5

Age Recommendation: 15+ for moderately frequent strong language.