Review: ‘Jersey Boys’ at Leeds Grand Theatre

Photography ©Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Photography ©Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Adam Bruce

  • Associate United Kingdom Critic

Since 2005, the musical ‘Jersey Boys’ has been captivating audiences around the world, closing on Broadway last year and embarking on tours across the globe ever since. Now on a new UK tour, I managed to catch the show at the Leeds Grand Theatre amidst the theatre’s 140th Birthday celebrations.

Several of my recent reviews have been of musicals, primarily those musicals that document the story and legacy of a particular artist or group. ‘Jersey Boys’ is the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, who rose to prominence in the 1960s and became incredibly successful, with a unique sound that set them apart from their competition. Much to my delight, the musical isn’t simply a rehashing of the group’s catalogue, but is a dramatic re-telling of the band’s origins and journey, also making use of song to expand on character and convey the narrative. 

The titular Jersey Boys, Frankie Valli (Michael Watson), Tommy DeVito (Peter Nash), Bob Gaudio (James Winter) and Nick Massi (Karl James Wilson) take charge of the four seasons of the year to tell us each member’s perspective on the band’s beginnings. Amidst a fluid, multi-roling ensemble, we discover the rags-to-riches story of the group, and through certain songs in their catalogue, discover the emotional challenges and strains incurred by each member of the group and their families. The core performers playing the band, along with the ensemble, perfectly execute the narrative of the piece, and shade their performances with sensitive clarity and respect to the real people they portray. With unrelenting energy and a sense of harmonious drive, similar to the one found in the band’s original recordings, the whole company act as a storytelling force to be reckoned with. 

Under Des McAnuff’s direction, the story of The Four Seasons is given dramatic weight and transformed into a stand-alone piece that allows audiences to engage with the trials and tribulations of one of the most important bands in the 60s. With each member of the band becoming narrators throughout, and with dramatic scenes taking place regularly as opposed to being shoehorned in or tacked on, ‘Jersey Boys’ is far from a jukebox musical that caters to the nostalgia of its audience. McAnuff orchestrates a scenography that heightens the action and supports the musical’s stylistic stance as a piece of narrative-driven theatre. Klara Zieglerova’s set design captures the industrial essence of the band’s home town, with metal spiral staircases and mesh fences dividing up the stage space and allowing the cast to swiftly transition into new scenes and locations. 

One of the most striking aspects of the scenography, however, has to be Michael Clark’s projection design, which cleverly makes use of live camera feeds to recreate the band’s live performances on American television, while also projecting comic book-like strips relating to the action onto the top screen. These projection choices give the production a contemporary feel, while also implementing the essence of a physical story being handed down across multiple types of media, as well as reminding us of the appeal and importance of the band’s story. 

Back in 2005 when ‘Jersey Boys’ was first staged and received by the public, musicals of this type were beginning to come into their own. ‘Jersey Boys’ set a new benchmark for conceptual, story-driven musicals focused on musical groups and bands, strengthening the resolve of new ways in which such stories can be told. Now, over thirteen years later, ‘Jersey Boys’ feels as fresh and as relevant as it originally was. With strong performances, well-executed music and a compelling design, ‘Jersey Boys’ remains one of the modern musical theatre canon’s most respected and important productions. 

‘Jersey Boys’ is at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 1st December and continues on tour. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.jerseyboysuktour.com/tour-dates/tour-tickets/ 

Some last minute changes occurred to the cast for the performance being reviewed, and it is advised these changes are frequent due to the size of the company. For an extensive, up-to-date cast list, please visit http://www.jerseyboysuktour.com/about/cast/

An extensive creative list is also available on the production’s website in the ‘About’ section.