New Jersey Nights (Playhouse Theatre)

The Playhouse’s first presentation of the year takes us back in time with the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and features, naturally enough, their incredible, decades-spanning collection of hits.

The singers (Jon Hawkins, Duncan Heather, Ricky Rojas and Damion Scarcella) do a very creditable job indeed of recreating the harmonies that made the group famous, wisely switching lead vocals to whoever is most suited to a particular song, rather than each playing a particular part. And given the number of personnel changes the Seasons went through, this makes a great deal of sense.

Once you get past the fact that the guys on stage are obviously three Englishmen and an Australian, and nobody talks like they’re in the Sopranos (a show Frankie himself spent a couple of seasons in), you could shut your eyes and almost be listening to the real thing.

Backed by a more than competent 5 piece band and half a dozen dancers, they zip through – and they do zip, as the show was little more than two 45 minute sets – every Four Seasons and Frankie Valli solo hit that you could wish to hear. And if you loved that music, you’ll love this show.

But however you look at it, this is still a concert by a tribute band, even if it’s got its party clothes on. The big disappointment was the lack of narrative, there was little attempt to give any background information and given the wealth of material to draw on this was indeed a sin of omission.

A couple of quick examples: did you know their first big hit “Sherry” was originally “Jackie Baby” and dedicated to the then First Lady? Or that the group was formed when Joe Pesci, who later became an Oscar-winning actor, introduced Frankie to his friend Bob Gaudio? Neither Joe or Jaqueline Kennedy merit a mention in the show, making it decidedly odd that Phil Spector gets a section to himself, the female dancers out front for “Be My Baby” and “Da Do Ron Ron”. And I don’t think the Four Seasons ever covered Martha & the Vandella’s “Heatwave” either. Strange indeed.

Midway through the second half, a botched introduction to “Blue Moon” led to an attempt to introduce a rapport with the audience, jokey suggestions that “Duncan will be leaving the show now” were so laboured that I checked out reviews for previous performances, and as Miss Spears might have said, “Oops, he did it again”.

So, Oh What a Night as a concert, but not really a stage show. I must confess I started to worry about production values on arrival, with the programme announcement that it was coming to Milton Keynes Theatre for one week only…and I thought I was still in Edinburgh.

Jim Welsh