Monday, 25 June 2012

Jersey Boys, Prince Edward Theatre, 24/06/12 (matinee)

Jersey Boys is now in its fifth year in London's West End, at the Prince Edward Theatre, and shows no sign of relent. It focuses on the 'rags to riches' life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; charting their upbringing on the streets of New Jersey back in the 1950s up until their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the 1990s. It won a Tony on Broadway in 2006 for Best New Musical and an Olivier in 2009 for the award of the same title, and being a repeat viewer myself, I can easily see why.

Ryan Molloy has played Frankie Valli since the show began and continues to make probably the hardest sing in the West End look as effortless as ever. To have played a role for so long and to appear so fresh and lively every time I have seen him, really is a credit to himself. His vocal is stunning and in particular the iconic Frankie Valli falsetto is crystal clear; I've never heard the man sing a bad note. Probably the most important aspect of the character is his developing transition throughout the show from a lively teenager to an experienced, successful and iconic recording artist. Ryan manages to portray this again with ease - he really does tick all the boxes, from the highs of selling millions of copies of songs such as Sherry and Can't Take My Eyes Off You, to the traumatic lows of his broken marriage and the death of his daughter: he is key in engrossing the audience in to travelling on the same journey. Indeed, the real Frankie Valli's declaration of Ryan as "possibly the best Frankie ever" speaks for itself.

How to follow that? Well, as sidekicks go, Matt Wycliffe's Bob Gaudio is right up there. He brings a warmth and friendliness to the character, but he taps into the shyer, quieter and perceivably more geeky side of Bob very well. And what a voice! His Cry For Me is to die for; personally I think it is right up there with James Winter's as the best I've heard. This London production has had so many fantastic Bobs (honourable mentions here to Original Cast member Stephen Ashfield and also Chris Gardner, current first cover, too), they've almost been spoilt with talent. Matt and Ryan complement each other as the brains/voice combination in the second Act so very well and although of course it fits into the show's plot, I am always gutted when Bob leaves the group and they no longer sing together (until the finale as part of the Four Seasons at least). Now into his second year in the show, long may Matt stay!

Eugene McCoy's fantastically goofy Nick Massi is as good as ever, and always guaranteed to get a laugh or two. He certainly relies on a more comic side to Nick's character and his repeated deadpan delivery of "I really think I should start my own group" is probably the highlight; next to when he 'explodes' in the second Act in what is meant to be one of the more serious points of the show. His rich and booming bass vocal is dead on the money and as a key part of the vocal harmonies in the show, he is perfectly suited for the role.

Ben Wheeler played Tommy DeVito (instead of Jon Boydon, who always gives a sublime performance) at this particular show and he does a very good job at opening up and setting the scene for what is to follow. His Tommy is quite soft and less aggressive than Jon's but no less effective, and I feel his interaction with the audience is probably the best part of his portrayal. The fact he too has been in the production (as a Swing) since day one shows and he is clearly well experienced in the role and has built up a wonderful understanding with Ryan as Frankie in particular. His vocal is good, perhaps not as stand-out as Jon's, but I always enjoy seeing someone else's take on a role (and this was my second time seeing Ben and I certainly have no complaints).

And a quick line or two on each of the new members of the ensemble:

Howard Jones as Bob Crewe - other fans of the show were quite critical of Howard and after his two predecessors he certainly has a hard act to follow; but other than a couple of forced lines his portrayal was pretty much on the money and I didn't have much to complain about. I am sure he'll only get better in his run anyhow.

Dan Burton as Joe Pesci - reminded me so much of Jye Frasca's Pesci too; so hyper and manic that you can't help but laugh at him. Got all the lines out very well and excellent facial expressions. Interacted well with Ben Wheeler (Tommy) and in a quite limited role that's all you can ask. Have heard he's a fantastic Frankie too.

Tee Jaye as Barry Belson - very good to have him back! Whether it's the opening rap number as Yannick, as Hal Miller, as the 'love muffin' police officer or Davis the radio director, every single time he's on stage you're guaranteed to laugh or smile at his brilliance. One of the stand-outs from the ensemble for sure and a great voice.

Trina Hill as Francine - my new favourite Francine! My first time seeing her after being promoted from her Swing role and did not disappoint; My Boyfriend's Back is the only number where a Francine can really be tested and Trina's voice was amazing - not too shouty or loud and excellent diction.

Edd Post was on as Norm Waxman (second cover) and as a new Swing member it was great to see him on stage. He did a great job in one of his first times on in this track; he had all the moves including when Charlie Calello completely 'goes for it' with the wig et al in the second half of Act two and delivered all the lines where necessary. Would love to see his Gaudio.

Long-standing cast members Stuart Milligan and Mark Carroll were as good as ever in their portrayals of Gyp and Knuckles. I've seen them so much in those roles I cannot imagine them being played by anyone else! I was disappointed not to catch the new Mary, Nicola Brazil in action but Swing and understudy Lucinda Gill was on the money as ever. Like Ben as Tommy, Lucinda has been in the cast from the start and this definitely shows via her easy interaction with her on-stage husband Frankie. Charlie Bull still does a great job as Lorraine after two and a half years; I would love to hear more of her voice. Lastly, but by no means least comes Michael Conway who was on as Hank in place of Chris Gardner. By his own admission this is probably the easiest track in the show but he absolutely makes the best of it and he was clearly loving being on stage alongside Swing buddy Edd in the second Act which was great to watch. He's a fabulously talented (and extremely nice) guy who has now been on for Frankie - I think - eight times, the second of which I was lucky enough to see and the man was incredible. One to watch I think.

So there you have it. A ridiculously good show with a ridiculously talented cast that certainly does the original Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons very very proud. It's quite simple, if you haven't seen it - you must.

At this performance, the cast was:
Ryan Molloy (Frankie Valli), Matthew Wycliffe (Bob Gaudio), Ben Wheeler (Tommy DeVito), Eugene McCoy (Nick Massi), Charlie Bull (Lorraine), Dan Burton (Joe Pesci), Mark Carroll (Knuckles), Michael Conway (Hank Majewski), Lucinda Gill (Mary Delgado), Trina Hill (Francine), Tee Jaye (Barry Belson), Howard Jones (Bob Crewe), Stuart Milligan (Gyp DeCarlo), Edd Post (Norm Waxman)

Also in the cast are Jon Boydon, Jon Lee, Nicola Brazil, Chris Gardner, Jake Samuels, Mark Isherwood, Ben Jennings and Gemma Whitelam.

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