There is much to like about Northern Light Theatre Company’s current production of the musical Jersey Boys, directed by Ceri Hutton. Every musical presents its own particular challenges for any production company, and Jersey Boys is no exception. With no fewer than thirty-three musical numbers – many of them being instantly recognisable to any audience – and the story itself being an episodic dramatized history (of the band The Four Seasons), there are numerous scenes to stage in diverse settings which means a myriad of associated technicalities and production elements to get right to make the whole thing work. This production gets most of it right – really, it’s a delight – but there were a few hitches on opening night that need to (and can) be ironed out to allow the show to reach its full joyous potential. More on that later.
Jersey Boys is essentially a juke box musical that uses the songs of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons to present a biography of the band, following it from its origins through to its successes and difficulties, and eventually to the internal wranglings that led to its ultimate demise. The music is by Bob Gaudio, who was actually the keyboardist and backing vocalist of The Four Seasons. The book is by screenwriter Marshall Brickman (best known for Annie Hall) and Rick Elice, with lyrics by song writer Bob Crewe (who wrote a number of hits for The Four Seasons).
Ceri Hutton and John Sheehan’s set design is set on two levels and includes a scaffold mezzanine framed by neon-lit decorative panels and cyclorama as the dominant feature. There is ample space downstage into which is wheeled diverse items of stage properties and furniture by the mostly slick stage crew with assistance from the cast. Scene changes on opening night were mostly well paced and executed but were sometimes frustrated by mis-timed lighting cues that had some action happening in dim (or no) light. Sometimes, follow spots were slow to take up the required action. However, such hitches aside, a number of scenes looked fantastic, such as the American Bandstand TV studio, and the performance of Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You. On occasions, good use of a fly-in-fly-out digital screen was used as a billboard to identify time and location. This device not only looked effective, it also helped the audience keep up!
With so much singing in the show, the vocalists needed to be at the top of their game, and they were. Deon Martino-Williams was a standout as Frankie Valli and ‘nailed’ the distinctive style of Valli’s voice. The required intermittent falsetto presented him with no problems, and nor did the need to quickly traverse his range, and it was a true pleasure to hear him sing, every time! Kristian Latella (as Tommy DeVito) and Michael Coumi (Bob Gaudio) also sang and acted well, and the quartet was rounded out with good support from Sam Davy (Nick Massi). They all shone in their roles, and they needed to. After all, the show entirely depends on them ‘becoming’ the Four Seasons.
All members of the ensemble also performed well. Characterisations were thought out and consistently delivered. Singing and dancing (with choreography by the indefatigable Sue Pole) was en pointe, and special mention should be made of Jaxon Roy and Roxie Giovannucci who gave fabulous performances and took every opportunity to shine.
Michelle Davy gave a stirring performance as Valli’s wife, and the scene in which they finally realise their troubled relationship is over was handled exceedingly well.
Leanne Savill’s orchestra is excellent, but sadly performed off stage and was never sighted by the audience. (In some ways this is helpful, because it places all musical attention on those on stage who are miming the playing of instruments, and the miming was convincing with only a few lapses).
On opening night, audio design and operation wasn’t entirely kind to some of the earlier musical numbers and dialogue, but quickly hit its straps and supported the production well. Lighting was excellent in parts – especially in the big production numbers – but was not as well designed or executed for a number of the smaller and more compact scenes. Costuming by Ceri Hutton and Fran Edwards was appropriate and colourful: the outfits worn by the Four Seasons, and by the members of The Angels were first rate.
This production is a real toe tapper. The commitment of the whole company is palpable, as is the obvious and infectious joy they show in performing it. The audience loved every minute of it, and understandably so.