‘Jersey Boys’ is a new high watermark for musicals

‘Jersey Boys’ is a new high watermark for musicals

SHOW: Jersey Boys

‘Jersey Boys’ reminded me a lot of ‘Goodfellas’, the Martin Scorsese gangster film the musical itself makes reference to at one point. It’s not just the “Jersey” accents, or the elements of organised crime that form part of the story at many junctures. The whole absorbing narrative design; the seamless movement of stage props that replicate the director’s famous tracking shots; the large, memorable personalities that invite both our derision, but also our sympathy – it all strongly harkens back to that classic 1990s film.

‘Jersey Boys’ of course is a musical, and a large scale and high profile one at that and as expected, it really excels at the musical bits, delivering them with style and chutzpah to spare, but the compelling nature of the story of the story is a welcome surprise. The words “musical theatre” can often be misleading, because most musicals really don’t really have great storylines. A lot of the times the stories and characters barely manage to disguise the fact that more time was spent making sure the tunes are catchy rather than that time was spent on giving the audience a rounded theatrical experience. Perhaps because it is based on a real life story ‘Jersey Boys’ doesn’t sacrifice on the dramatic quotient, giving us interesting, and in some cases fully formed characters that really enhances one’s enjoyment of the musical.

Of course, the music is still the big draw card and although you might think you don’t know who The Four Seasons were, one’s memory is jogged quite quickly. It’s the kind of fare that you might have heard on a movie or a TV show once upon a time and will likely strike you as instantly familiar. Even if you are really ignorant of pop culture, the music is the typically melodic and instantly memorable pop that was so popular in the sixties and have arguably never been bettered.
Even if you don’t get into the music, in which case please check your pulse, the story is so cinematically pleasing that you’re likely to be satisfied in that way. In short, it has a little something-something to please almost anyone.

It is all brought to life by one of the most winning ensemble casts I have seen on a musical stage in a while; even perhaps ever. These guys have been performing ‘Jersey Boys’ in Joburg for some time, and overseas before that, and it tells: they are slickness, but also nuance personified.
Perhaps my favourite is Daniel Buys as the Tommy de Vito, the original founder of the group and the one that got them entangled with organised crime. It is a complex role, but Buys delivers it with impressive intensity and focus. He really nails the ‘hustlerish’ bravado and charisma of the character that makes you understand why three relatively streetwise guys would believe this guy that they could be a great band, but he also manages to show the the flipside of that self-belief and how those kinds of personalities can be so exasperating.

The biggest surprise of the show is Grant Almirall as Frankie Valli, the lead singer of the group. Until now Almirall has been a mostly background player in these large scale musicals, but does he ever grab has chance at the spotlight. Hardly putting a foot wrong, or misplacing a note for that matter, Almirall is a magnetic, but also highly sympathetic lead man that really gets you on his side by so successfully telegraphing the common decency of his character.

‘Jersey Boys’ is only running until July 14. That’s less than a month for a production of this scale, and quality, so act fast. Do not miss it. You’ll quite literally be kicking yourself if you do. This is one instance where the hoopla is irrefutably justified.

* Book at Computicket.

CAST: GRANT ALMIRALL, KENNETH MEYER, DANIEL BUYS, EMMANUEL CASTIS, CHARLIE BOUGUENON, DUANE ALEXANDER, CARMEN PRETORIUS, TARYN-LEE HUDSON, KIRSTEN MURPHY ROSSITER, BJÖRN BLIGNAUT, MATT COUNIHAN AND KYLE MATTHEWS
VENUE: Artscape Opera House until July 14
REVIEW: PETER TROMP