Review: Jersey Boys @ Sunderland Empire
Jersey Boys is one of those shows that everyone has heard of, but I have to confess to not being able to think of one song from the production before I arrived. However, since I saw the performance on Wednesday of last week, I’ve had the soundtrack on almost constant repeat both on my phone and in my head.
The story follows Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons through their explosion of success, in-band fighting, mob connections, love and loss. Starting out on the wrong side of the tracks, Tommy DeVito (Stephen Webb) takes centre stage as he explains how he trained Frankie in singing whilst making trips in and out of jail. At times you have to remind yourself that this is all largely based on a true story.
Frankie, along with four boys from New Jersey, became one of the most successful bands in pop history. The Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and sold 175 million records worldwide, all before they turned 30. The show is packed with their hits, including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, My Eyes Adored You, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Working My Way Back to You, Fallen Angel, Rag Doll and Who Loves You.
The show started out to wild applause as the audience were treated to the band’s greatest hits and some dark humour. After the medley of Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man, the four actors received a standing ovation and the energy of the show never dipped for a moment.
Towards the end of the first act though there was a small “technical difficulty” where a prop refused to come on stage. The theatre had to lower the curtain for 10 minutes until they resolved the issue. When the actors came back on stage, they re-started the scene from the top – which included the naming of the band after the Four Seasons Bowling Alley. The scene has all four band members with their backs to the audience, staring up at the sign and Tommy is the only one unsure of what they are supposed to be looking at, so exclaims “What?” rather aggressively.
When re-doing the scene, Stephen Webb slightly changed the lines to “What…again!”. The applause and laughter rang through out the theatre but not as much as when the four actors turned back to the audience and Stephen broke character and burst out laughing as Matt Corner, who originally comes from just up the road in Newcastle, desperately tried to keep it together. The laughter and applause lasted for at least two minutes until the actors tried to continue on with the scene.
I know that technically it’s unprofessional, breaking character and messing up a scene, but for m, it’s the little moments like that which make it. It was something that made the production unique and showed precisely what the actors can bring to it. Corner put his hand to his heart during the two minute long applauses after certain songs – which wasn’t part of the scene – and you can tell how touched the actors were at the responses they got from the audience.
Overall, Jersey Boys was amazing. Filled with songs that are either immediately familiar or immediately catchy, I would highly recommend seeing the tour, which is at the Empire Theatre until Saturday 6 December.