SUB-TITLED The Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, this show reminded me of those Hollywood “biogs” of famous musicians which professed to be an accurate account of the subjects life, but owed as much, if not more, to the efforts of a script writer as the facts.
Although we learn about Francesco Stephan Castelluccio’s humble beginnings, the eldest of three sons born into an Italian family in Newark, New Jersey, and his conversion from Barber and designer for model trains to singer Frankie Valli, much else in this script comes from the imagination of book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. These two gentlemen whose fast moving script full of American idioms of the period – 1960s – introduce us to the original members of The Four Seasons and some of the often unsavoury characters they meet on their rise to, and fall from the top of the pop industry.
But you get the feeling that only part of the tale is being told in order to show Frankie Valli in a more favourable light. The ladies in the story, particularly his three wives, and his daughter Francine, who tragically died from a drug overdose aged twenty two, are thinly sketched in.
When it comes to recalling the hit numbers that sold millions of albums and singles, particularly during the 1960s and 70s recorded by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, this show scores a bulls eye almost every time. Close your eyes and you would think it was Mr Valli himself rather than Michael Watson who was on stage singing My Mother’s Eyes, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You and Fallen Angel.
Open your eyes and those typically 1960s moves that went with the song presentations will be on view as Peter Nash (Replacing Simon Bailey on the evening I attended), Declan Egan, and Lewis Griffiths bring the other three original members of The Four Seasons Tommy DeVitio, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi singing classics like Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man vividly to life.
Vocal arranger Ron Melrose and MD Francis Goodhand can take a bow for giving the singers that quality of musical support, and so can the small-scale orchestra who changed their position on stage as quickly and efficiently as the swift moving expertly lit sets. A video screen, which seemed to appear and disappear like magic was skillfully used sometimes giving us closeups of the vocalists and on other occasions displaying vivid garish images that looked as if they had been ripped out of a comic strip from that period.
Between the 33 whole or part numbers performed, another 25 well-known songs failed to find a home in the show, Mark Heenehan and James Alexander Gibbs managed to squeeze in two telling portraits of real life personalities “Gangster Gyp” DeCarlo and Oscar nominated film star Joe Pesci.
You can tell how scarce the chances were for the ladies in the cast by the fact that Tara Young, Loraine Robinson and Phoebe May Newman were billed in the programme as Mary, Lorraine (wife 1 and girlfriend of Frankie Valli) daughter Francine, and others. Despite this, they made quite a few bricks from the straw in the script allocated to them.
Taken overall this show is a cut above those tribute presentations that are little more than an excuse to try and recreate the sounds of a bygone era. Real or imaginary. this one does paint some realistic pictures of the people involved and the time and place which spawned a large raft of popular hit songs.
Jersey Boys continues at Bristol until 17th November.