Jersey Boys Edinburgh Playhouse

Back in January last year, I went to the Playhouse for a show called New Jersey Nights which was, you might not be too surprised to learn, a musical based around the hits of the Four Seasons. Although it had its moments, it was a decidedly low budget effort that had little or no plot, and was basically a tribute band in concert.

Go to the Playhouse this week, and you’ll get something a whole lot closer to the real deal. Jersey Boys covers the rise of the four young guys from a bad neighbourhood who were not always on the straight and narrow themselves, but who became one of the most popular bands in the world, selling millions upon millions of records and getting inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

It must have been as near to a guaranteed success as anything in the world of theatre can ever be, the plot taken from the lives of the band, lives that include prison sentences, marriage breakups and tragic death of loved ones, while the succession of hit songs provide the powerful and instantly recognisable soundtrack that a good musical requires.

The 50 years the story covers are divided into four sections: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, and each of the leads takes a turn narrating events, providing sometimes conflicting accounts of what occurred – as Tommy DeVito says “If you ask four guys what happened, you’ll get four different versions”. The opening Spring is a slow burner, but the show unsurprisingly gathers momentum as Summer comes, and brings the hits.

It’s no wonder this show has been picking up so many awards, behind this tale of true life highs and lows, there is a faithful recreation of the Four Seasons sound – tight harmonies around the soaring vocals of Tim Driesen as Frankie Valli on a seemingly endless stream of Bob Gaudio/Bob Crewe hits: Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – perfect pop music that arguably has never been equalled.

The cast are uniformly excellent, the choreography could not be better and the band are faultless. The stage set is simple, a couple of spiral staircases linked by a walkway serves as tenements, prison and nightclubs. One particularly notable moment occurs when the band appear on tv – they perform side-on to the theatre audience, but are projected on to a screen in black and white as they are seen by the cameras.

A word of warning, though – this is not a show for all the family; its New Jersey roots show in the liberal use of strong language. That apart, I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone, whether or not you were around in the band’s heyday.

Jim Welsh