Jersey Boys (UK Tour), Edinburgh Playhouse | Review

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Jersey Boys (UK Tour) 
Edinburgh Playhouse 
Reviewed on Wednesday 20th February 2019 by Liv Ancell

The latest touring show to grace the Edinburgh Playhouse with a two-week residence is the all-singing show, Jersey Boys. Although, upon curtains up, you could be mistaken for thinking you had perhaps turned up to the wrong show by accident, with an off-theme French contemporary rap song (Ces soirées-là) kicking off the show - the relevance of course, being that the Jersey Boys’ original songwriting and melodies are frequently covered and adapted by modern artists to this day. With this firmly established, we immediately move back to the 1960s where the story of the Jersey Boys - this being of course the collective term for the four iconic Newark lads who formed the rock and roll group The Four Seasons - all began... 

The layout of the performance is such that a different band member in term breaks the fourth wall and introduces parts of the story, or cuts in and interjects the action with a retrospective narrative. They do this in turns and add in their side of the story, but the first up is Tommy Devito, who was one of the groups founding members and in the stage version, is the loudest and most animated of the four protagonists (played by Simon Bailey). 

As Tommy takes us back to the early days of ‘The Lovers’, we begin to learn more about the ups-and-downs the band navigated on their way to stardom, set against the backdrop of Italian-American life in 1960s Newark, New Jersey. 

The songs throughout are sung expertly, keeping true to the band members’ Jersey accents and famous tones and pitches. To master historical regional accents must be no easy feat, but the cast had the audience well convinced. 

The actors are all meticulous in their portrayals, which is made even more apparent when the screen at the back of the stage projects the real life performance from the 1960s, synced in time above the actors’ own rendition. Indeed, Michael Watson (Frankie Valli), Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio), Lewis Griffiths (Nick Massi) and Simon Bailey (Tommy DeVito) all put in truly stellar performances, with the energy kept high throughout and displayed fantastic comedy timing. 

While I have seen many retrospective artist/band stories translated to the stage, this one was possibly the version which glazed the most over the more emotive scenes and elements of the story. In this adaptation, there is no doubt that the iconic songs of the Four Seasons are the real focus. 

For the audience, who were mostly made up of slightly older theatre-goers, this was a welcome move. Renditions of Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take my Eyes off You and December 1963 (Oh What a Night) had the audience delighted, with the warm feeling of nostalgia palpable in the stalls, circle and balcony. 

For me however, stage biopics about the life and hits of Carole King and Cilla Black were a more rapturous journey to sit back and watch; emotive scenes were explored in depth, with the audience really riding the highs and lows of the protagonists. In this version however, scenes which should have had the audience sympathising at great lengths with the characters (I won’t spoil anything…) were instead given very little stage time, squeezed between hits guaranteed to get the audience going. 

In terms of staging, an industrial static set-up dominates the stage, serving well at times as a prison and a recording studio. However, the set wasn’t particularly versatile or inventive. The screen backdrop was intended to assist in varying up the settings, although there were a few times when seemingly random pop-art pieces were flashed onto this screen in the middle of scenes. This was rather a gimicky addition which didn’t add to the sense of time and place, and only served to distract. 

There’s no doubt, this is a true feel good musical which will have you tapping your toes, but if you’re after a rollercoaster journey of emotion, this one probably isn’t for you.

Jersey Boys runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until March 2nd

photo credit: Rob MacDougall