Aridhi Anderson is a theatre director, writer and performer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at thedaydream.in.
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons - Oh What A Night
The multi award-winning international blockbuster musical Jersey Boys is playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne for eight weeks in 2019. It's been fourteen years since the show first opened on Broadway, but it still plays to packed houses around the world and it's not hard to see why. Weaved around greatly loved hits from Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, this show has fantastic music and choreography, brilliant tech, dazzling costumes (it's amazing how much you can do with four men in suits!), and a refreshingly authentic, inspiring story - the true story of this legendary 1960s pop band's rise to fame.
Tommy DeVito, Frankie Valli, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio were the original Four Seasons band that rose to fame in the early '60s with a series of #1 hits like Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, and Walk Like a Man. But before they got there, they went through years of experimentation, re-branding, re-grouping, and generally struggling to find consistent work. They also had their fair share of brushes with the law. Previously known by a number of different names including Tommy and the Nicks, Romans, The Varietones, and The Four Lovers, they kept reinventing themselves till they made it... With a little bit of help from Joe Pesci (yes, the real Joe Pesci, before he got famous!) at a crucial time.
Jersey Boys is a story told from four different perspectives - those of DeVito, Valli, Massi and Gaudio - and is strongly nostalgic in its tone. DeVito and Valli seem to have the lion's share in the telling of this story, and their narrations speak most to the passion and drama of the group's experience, their working-class backgrounds and down-to-earth values. Gaudio's part speaks most to their great musical talent and the group's commercial journey, and Massi's part, which feels like the least fleshed out (perhaps owing to his passing in 2000, before the making of this musical), contributes most strongly towards comic relief and balance. Having said that, one of the most memorable scenes in the show is one of Massi's (performed brilliantly by Glaston Toft) where the audience spontaneously erupts into wild applause, mid-scene.
Cameron MacDonald plays Tommy DeVito to perfection - a cocky, talented, dramatic and passionate young Italian-American who discovers Frankie Valli's singing talent and takes him on as a protege. Ryan Gonzalez is outstanding as Frankie Valli, and does a truly commendable job of performing Valli's songs in the style of Valli's extremely distinctive singing style, nailing every falsetto. Debutant Thomas McGuane delivers an absolutely first-rate portrayal of gifted songwriter and keyboard player Bob Gaudio, and Glaston Toft is supremely endearing as bass guitarist Nick Massi. All their Jersey accents are delightful and (with help from a great set and top quality tech backdrops) transport you back in time, to every place depicted in this journey.
There are a number of artistically magnificent scenes in the show. Notably, the scenes where the actors playing Frankie Valli and the band are performing side-on into vintage recording equipment, but the original performances by the real band are projected to the audience front-on from a screen above them. The synchronization between the original band and the actors playing them on stage, and the creative design of this visual, are deeply impactful. Another magnificent scene is when the audience is given a sort of backstage VIP perspective of the band's performance. It's a thrilling moment - the bright lights and electric vibe gave me goosebumps.
The show does have some uneven elements, such as its (very '60s) male-centric perspective. There are a number of women referenced in the show that played an important role in Frankie Valli's life and arguably, by extension, in the group's journey (such as Valli's mother, his first wife Mary, his daughter Francine, among others) but they're given very little stage time and are drawn with little nuance. The other women in the music industry have even less of a role. This show definitely doesn't pass the Bechdel test, but that probably makes it more authentic for the time period that it's set in.
Overall, though, Jersey Boys is an extremely high energy, superbly-crafted musical that evokes every sort of emotion through this very touching, very human story; and it leaves the audience with a deep appreciation for the journey and accomplishments of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.