If it weren’t for Covid-19, we probably wouldn’t have Jersey Boys back in the West End. The return of the blockbuster Broadway bio-musical about The Four Seasons closed in the West End in 2017 after nine years, first at the 1727-seat Prince Edward Theatre followed by the 1232-seat Piccadilly Theatre.
Last October, as producers scrambled for safe, existing, feelgood product to lure audiences back to the West End, the return of Jersey Boys, to reopen the reconfigured, restored and renamed 630-seat Trafalgar Theatre (previously the carved-up two-auditoria Trafalgar Studios and before that the Whitehall Theatre). Of course, that planned April reopening was postponed due to lockdown three, but here we are at last.
Much less happily, if it weren’t for Covid-19, we probably would still have one of the original Four Seasons, who is depicted in the show. In September 2020, the band’s lead guitarist Tommy DeVito passed away in Las Vegas at the age of 92, after contracting the virus.
Knowing this makes watching the show that much more poignant. DeVito is, in my mind, the most interesting character. In Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman’s book, inspired by the band’s name, DeVito opens the show’s four-part narrative and tells how in the ‘Spring’ of their journey, he powered the quartet into existence, rising scrappily from the rough streets of Jersey, with detours for Mafia entanglements, petty crimes and prison stints.
Later, as lead songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio, bass guitarist Nick Massi (who died from cancer in 2000, just one year after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and five years before Jersey Boys’ Broadway premiere) and, the most famous of the four, falsetto lead vocalist Frankie Valli, give their perspectives during their Summer, Fall and Winter narratives, it’s tensions with DeVito – his ongoing mob connections, competitive womanising, spiralling gambling debts and resentment over his waning importance – that provide the drama.
At the Trafalgar Theatre, this complex man is well served by Benjamin Yates’ hugely charismatic performance as a swaggering, streetwise Tommy, who can’t stop congratulating himself on spotting the talent in a 16-year-old Valli and guiding him to manhood in more ways than one.
Once Yates’ time in the seasonal spotlight is over, the plot splutters a bit. But by that point, as the Four Seasons ascend the charts, the hits are pumping out one after another – Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Oh What a Night (god, I love that song), My Eyes Adored You, Big Man in Town, Working My Way Back to You, Rag Doll – and all you want to do is sit back and enjoy.
Once we get to Ben Joyce’s Valli, having lost all three original bandmates but still going strong, step forward to croon Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, we can’t take our eyes off him.
Jersey Boys is booking at the West End’s Trafalgar Theatre until 2 January 2022.
Production photography by Mark Senior.
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