Thank you to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with tickets in exchange for this review
Most ‘juke box musicals’ take a band or artist’s hits and weave them into a fictional story. Not so Jersey Boys; the internationally-acclaimed stage sensation tells the real-life story of the people behind the music themselves – Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Four ordinary men who became one of the biggest music acts in the world in the 1960s and whose songs are still so well-loved today.
The stage musical has been delighting audiences since 2005, winning 65 major awards and having been seen by close to 30 million people worldwide – including here in Cardiff where it’s back in town for a two-week run at Wales Millennium Centre. I took my 11 year old to last night’s press performance, the first time seeing it for both of us, and we both loved it.
Unlike other jukebox musicals (We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia and similar) where I’ve known a lot about the musicians behind the hits, as well as the songs themselves, I knew nothing about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I knew plenty of their hits, and even found myself having several “I didn’t know they wrote that!” moments, but couldn’t have pointed the frontman out in a line up or told you a single fact about them. And it’s not just me; as the show’s co-writer Rick Elice points out in the programme notes, unlike other bands at the time, so little was known about their personal lives.
“Very little was written about the band back in their heyday,” he says. “They had been written off in the 1960s, in the same way that I had written them off in my mind, as not being interesting.”
But behind the upbeat, catchy songs with Valli’s distinctive vocals, is a fascinating, compelling story of prison sentences, mob connections, spiraling debts, relationship breakdowns and the band almost imploding. With such off-stage antics, it’s easy no wonder Jersey Boys has been such a theatrical success.
Michael Pickering plays Frankie Valli, nailing that legendary falsetto vocal and swooping with ease from the low notes to the high as he fronts the band’s biggest hits and battles with his own personal relationships.
Dalton Wood is Tommy DeVito, the band’s charismatic bad boy who brings the band together (and almost destroys them), while Christopher Short is Nick Massi, the self-confessed ‘Ringo of the band’, a part of the story but never quite as integral as the others.
Blair Gibson plays Bob Gaudio, the songwriter whose words and melodies took the band from gigging musicians to global superstars, despite not loving the limelight himself. Seeing how some of the band’s biggest hits came to be was quite fascinating.
The story moves quickly, the hits come thick and fast, but there’s still a lot of depth to the plot (and I found the programme interesting in expanding on this). The four main characters work so well together; their harmonies are beautiful, the musical numbers in keeping with the band’s original style. Their array of matching suits look fantastic, and each is given the chance to address the audience and tell the story in their words.
It’s definitely a male-dominated show, but there’s a great cast of supporting females too with Emma Crossley shining in particular as Frankie’s struggling wife Mary Delgado, with she, Victoria McCabe and Ellie Seaton playing various other parts too.
Age guidance-wise, the official recommendation is 12+ with no admittance to under twos. There’s a lot of swearing and a few sexual references and some full-on ‘making out’ but nothing I wasn’t comfortable for my 11 and a half year old to watch. It helps that he’s passionate about music and musicals; it wouldn’t be to the taste of all teens and tweens, but he really loved it. Equally, it’d be a great one to see with friends or partner; although the plot is hard-hitting at times, the music is so uplifting and feel good, it makes for a great night out.
Jersey Boys is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 22 April 2023. Tickets cost from £17.50, with good availability for the rest of the run. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website here.