If you like your musicals packed with glitter, kick-lines and entire schools/gangs/villages/orphanages/prisons breaking into spontaneous song, Jersey Boys is not the show for you.
You’ll find none of that here.
However, if you appreciate great music, character-focused story-telling and a more restrained approach to theatre, you will absolutely not be disappointed in the latest offering from NQOMT.
Jersey Boys follows the true story of one of history’s most successful pop foursomes – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The book is an enormous undertaking, packing more than 30 years of events, told from four different perspectives, into less than three hours. Over the course of the show, audiences witness the forming, storming and performing of the Four Seasons in what often feels less like a musical and more like a tribute act, with a great – albeit super speedy – narrative holding it together.
As Frankie Valli (Johnathon Coco) and the Four Seasons – Tommy DeVito (Sam Stewart), Bob Gaudio (Mark Whittaker) and Nick Massi (Luke Reynolds) – the four leads truly have their work cut out for them. All four occupy the stage for most of the show, and I don’t recall a time Johnathon wasn’t on stage, with the exception of the opening scene.
This is the first time Johnathon has appeared in a lead role and he has risen to meet the responsibility tremendously well. He brings a sweetness and naivety to Frankie Valli, which fittingly wear off a little as time and experience batter him, but not at the expense of Frankie’s kindness. However, it is with his vocal performance that Johnathon is sure to impress audiences the most. Johnathon’s falsetto has to be heard to be believed, and a number of members of the final rehearsal audience commented on how well he had nailed Frankie Valli’s sound. I hope Townsville will be seeing much more of this debutante in local productions.
It was incredibly rewarding to see Sam Stewart and Mark Whittaker stepping into more mature roles than we have seen them in previously. While both have shone in more ‘boyish’ castings in the past, the characters of Tommy DeVito and Bob Gaudio demanded more headstrong ambition, and Sam and Mark did not disappoint. Luke Reynolds rounded out the quartet perfectly with a well-balanced blend of comedic timing and brooding intensity as required.
While all four performers were terrific in their own right, this is certainly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. From the first harmony they share, the chemistry is apparent, and it is clear your ears are in for a treat that lasts to the final note.
The Four Seasons are supported by a revolving door of supporting characters with most – if not all – cast members taking on multiple roles to fill out the people who came and went from the musicians’ lives over three decades. Every single cast member deserves praise for their performance. Some notable mentions are Adam Pether as Bob Crewe, Paddy Higgins as Gyp DeCarlo, Michael Ware as a young Joe Pesci, Sarah Valinoti as Mary Delgaro, Amberley Robinson as Lorraine and Glenn McCarthy as the sinister loan shark.
While much of this production’s aesthetic was simple in contrast to bigger, flashier musicals, there is no doubt that Director Kylie Ball and her production team would have conducted an enormous depth of research to maintain authenticity. There are no flashy details, big ensemble songs or over-the-top dance breaks to hide behind. Instead, the stripped back production gives the cast its well-deserved room to shine and firmly anchors the show in the ‘real world’ making the characters all the more relatable.
By necessity of pace, the set is simple consisting of some undressed gantry allowing for quick scene changes with just a few roll-out pieces and a small selection of furniture. The choice is hugely effective and keeps the show moving along rapidly. Unfortunately, this tremendous pace was disrupted on two occasions to bring a car onto stage, which made these scene changes feel haltingly slow compared to the rest without the pay-off to make it worthwhile. A simpler, more economical solution would have worked better here, and would not have been out of place.
The production team’s joint effort to slowly, subtly transform Frankie’s world as he rises to fame works to great effect. I loved watching the costuming, choreography, music and lighting become bolder and jazzier between the two Acts, and again this is testament to the thought and dedication the entire team has given to the storytelling process.
Lastly, the band. I honestly tapped my toes from the opening number – a delightfully charming French rendition of ‘Oh what a night’ – to the very end, and of course the band were a big part of that. They did not miss a beat as they brought us well-loved hit after well-loved hit.
I know audiences are sure to love this show, walk out smiling and wake up singing the next day.
NQOMT’s Jersey Boys runs 17 – 27 March 2021 at the Townsville Civic Theatre.