Review by Gillian Cumming
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. When it comes to Jersey Boys, the hit musical about ‘60s sensation The Four Seasons, the massaging of the truth enhances their rollercoaster ride to rock‘n’roll fame.
The original Jersey Boys first hit Australian audiences in 2009, touring nationally, more than once, to great acclaim.
Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice build an engaging narrative from the four band members’ contradictory accounts of the group’s rise and fall.
A mercurial balance is established in the show as each member tells how, really, the band’s success came down to them – the powder keg Tommy DeVito, who ran the group at the start; the acerbic bass player Nick Massi; the hyper-talented songwriter Bob Gaudi; and, of course, the initially ready-to-please angel-voiced Frankie Valli.
Jersey Boys never spares the thesis that behind every success story there exists a tortured back story.
Prospero Arts’ semi-staged and “reimagined” concert production, currently on at the QPAC Concert Hall until February 11, brings this enduring tale to light in a precisely engineered yet pared down show that delivers all the punch of the original.
Fans of The Four Seasons get to hear hits like Sherry, Beggin’, Walk Like a Man, My Eyes Adored You, Rag Doll and December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) – woven through the rough-and-tumble reality of loan sharks, mafia dons, gambling debts and jail stints.
Multi-award-winning director Marton Croft’s production perfectly captures the band’s shifting dynamics.
We see Valli (played intuitively by Brisbane-born Josh Mulheran) firstly welcome then ultimately resent DeVito (a powerfully convincing Connor Crawford), who in turn feels threatened by the growing camaraderie between Gaudio (Brisbane talent Jack Saunders reprising the role) and Valli.
Then there’s Ipswich-born Glaston Toft, a Jersey Boys veteran from 2009 and absolute pro in his portrayal of the brooding, fastidious Massi – his rants about the uselessness of tiny hotel soaps and regular aside about maybe starting his own band delighted show-goers no end.
Together, this powerful foursome delivers luminous harmonies – and the opening night audience loved it.
It was impossible to take your eyes off Connor Crawford’s DeVito, whose punchy vocals and stage prowess satisfyingly conveys how the outwardly slick operator never really outgrows his insecure scamming youth, delivering all the fireworks along the way.
In effective contrast, Jack Saunders’ natural confidence and velvet tones as the astute yet sensitive TS Eliot-quoting music prodigy Gaudio is a sheer delight and provides the kind of endearing boy-next-door presence that sets him slightly apart from his band members.
Josh Mulheran (Mamma Mia) nails Valli’s soaring falsetto, as sweet and delicate as candyfloss. He also gives Valli a hot-headed volatility that makes his character arc the most compelling, backed by his fireball musical performances.
Glaston Toft owns the role as Massi, his mellifluous bass and dour comic timing always spot on.
Among the show’s more than one dozen cast members, Glenn Hill is a standout as the mincing and marvellously funny and flamboyant songwriter-producer and lyricist Bob Crewe.
And Loren Hunter’s portrayal of DeVito’s wife Mary demonstrates true grit in an era when words like misogyny were yet to be uttered and the #metoo movement yet to be born.
Queensland Conservatorium graduate Matthew Casamento showed spark as a young Joe Pesci, responsible for introducing DeVito to Valli, and who in real life went on to become a character actor (Goodfellas, My Cousin Vinny) and household name in the US.
While the stage set is pared down, Craig Wilkinson’s expansive video screen projection backdrops the show’s every nuance with perfectly balanced scenes from the era.
Still, the music, with an 11-piece band under the direction of James Dobinson and supervisor David Young, is the big draw, bolstered by Dan Venz’s step-swinging choreography.
Lighting designer Ben Hughes’ spotlighting, with coloured and moving light, keeps your attention focused as each cast member tells their version of the tale.
Young theatre company Prospero Arts has hit on a formula that works with Jersey Boys, its third production, hot on the heels of successful concert-version shows The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain.
So don’t take your eyes off them.
Jersey Boys – The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, plays the QPAC Concert Hall until February 11
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