Say “Four Seasons” to a young Singaporean, and he’ll probably think of either the hotel or the local brand of durian puffs and pastries, instead of the best-selling American rock ‘n’ rollers who have shifted 175 million albums.
That’s probably because the group members were contemporaries of and almost as popular as The Beatles, active around 50 years earlier. Just as well they’re referred to as The Jersey Boys in this two-and-a-half-hour Tony award-winning musical extravaganza, which celebrates the hits in the short career of the original Four Seasons line-up and Frankie Valli’s 50-year career.
You get the 95% true story behind the glamourous lives of Four Seasons founding member, lead guitarist and baritone vocalist, Tommy DeVito (Daniel Buys); lead vocalist Frankie Valli (Grant Almirall); singer-songwriter and keyboardist, Bob Gaudio (Kenneth Meyer); and bass player and bass singer, Nick Massi (Emmanuel Castis).The 4 Seasons
Taking off from their name, the four seasons serve as a metaphorical framework, charting the rise and eventual fall of the band. The musical is split into 4 sections with each member taking turns with narrating duties, but as Tommy says, “You ask 4 guys, you get 4 different versions.”
It starts in spring when everything is blossoming and things are slowly falling into place and kicking to high gear. The Variety Trio become The Four Lovers with the inclusion of vocal prodigy Frankie Valli. Then things get hot in summer, when they’re at their prime. Bob Gaudio joins in on the act and they find their sound.
Act 2 delves deeper into the characters, their stories and their flaws. Fall sees the intricacies of their relationships within the group and outside of it, and the problems that arise. Infighting, personal loss, financial mismanagement and gambling addictions, pick your poison. Every band has their falling out.
And when the harsh cold of winter comes, so do life’s bitter truths – The Four Seasons as they were known are no more. Frankie’s left as a solo performer given Bob’s decision to stay behind the scenes.
The costumes and colour palette of the production evolve through the seasons as well. Spring and summer boasts spiffy suits in bright colours and covered with sequins and as we progress into fall, autumnal colours take the stage with brown tweed suits and as winter descends, a dark blue and black hue blankets the stage.
Flashback to the 60s
Already familiar with the repertoire of The Four Seasons (thanks for the musical education, mom & dad!), I’m thrilled to hear the foot-stomping bass lines and catchy piano riffs that The Four Seasons are so known for. You know they’re building up to their biggest hits like “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man”, and with the first note that comes out of Frankie’s magical mouth, you’re in for one heck of a ride.
But Jersey Boys is so much more than a Broadway biopic/musical. It’s an experience where you’re transported to the swinging 60s, doo-wops and all. Their dance moves are reminiscent of the era’s twist and shout phenomenon – cheesy, twisty and oh-so-adorable.
Part musical and part concert, the set-up here is undeniably impressive. Many a time actors are told not to have their backs to the audience, but good thing that isn’t the case here. Stellar stage blocking puts you in the heart of the action. With scenes that have the actors facing the back of the stage and spotlights enveloping the band in a glowing halo only to shine right at the audience, you’re thrust into the lives of The Four Seasons. It’s like you’re one of the gang, experiencing every waking moment with the boys as they unfold.
Interestingly enough, the audience even becomes the audience of 1962 at some parts, hearing the songs as they were performed on American Bandstand. As associate director West Hyler said at the media preview, “The audience actually becomes part of the show… the show doesn’t stay here on stage” and “a real intimacy forms between the audience and the actors”.
Hyler adds, “We have, in several companies [of Jersey Boys], had sort of ‘superfans’ who will see the show, in some cases, hundreds of times. And I think the reason they come again and again and again is because they come to see their ‘friends’.”
And you do get a sense of that. You find yourself being proud of the boys as they triumphed, grieving with them at personal loss, mourning at the band’s break-up. It’s an emotional roller coaster.
The 4 Talents
The 4 lead actors, as well as the supporting cast members, achieve convincing New Jersey accents.
This could, in part, be because Grant Almirall, his Frankie alternate, Jaco van Rensburg, and Daniel Buys were flown to Belleville, New Jersey and also worked with a vocal coach who had worked with artistes like Jon Bon Jovi, ensuring that they’re able to sing and act convincingly 8 times a week. The 2 Frankies even spent 2 days with the real Bob Gaudio. “When they open their mouths to sing, they’re thinking about what Bob Gaudio has told them, in the exact same way that the real Frankie Valli thought about what Bob Gaudio wanted him to do,” says associate musical director Jonathan Smith.
While Almirall pulls off a more-than-decent falsetto, he’s no match for Frankie Valli’s smooth operator vocals. But then again, who is? Maybe he needs to lay off the laksa and kolo mee (a local noodle dish with a curry soup base and the local adaptation Kuching’s pork noodle dish) that they’re apparently so fond of since arriving in Singapore just days before previews. Major kudos to him, too, for his impassioned performance when he learns of a death in the family. Even with his back towards the audience and without us having to see his face, his grief resonates throughout the theatre. Get your tissues ready.
That isn’t to say that Jersey Boys doesn’t have its lighter moments. After years of being overlooked and despite threats that “maybe this is a good time for me to start my own group”, Nick finally speaks out in a laugh-out-loud scene where he finally cracks. With the revelation of Tommy’s gambling problem, Nick goes on a rage-filled tirade at his long-time roommate for his selfishness, self-righteousness and filthy habits (he pees in the sink!). And in a defining moment for the band, they decide that the band can’t keep changing names. Cut to a large sign being just above them with “The Four Seasons” emblazoned across it in neon blue. “It’s a sign!” they exclaim. Indeed.
The Jersey Boys experience is an experience unlike any other. Young or old, familiar with the music or not, you’ll probably leave the theatre a fan. You’re likely to agree with long-time co-producer and co-writer with The Four Seasons, Bob Crewe, who, when the boys sang “Sherry” to him over the phone, thought, “Bingo!”
Jersey Boys runs till Feb 17, Tues to Sun, 8pm (2pm Sat & Sun matinees) at the Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are available from $55 (excl. booking fee) from SISTIC and the official Jersey Boys Singapore website.
MDA Advisory Rating: Some Coarse Language
Jersey Boys contains smoke, gun shots, strobe lights, profane “authentic Jersey language” and isn’t recommended for children under 12. Please visit www.JerseyBoysInfo.com/language for more information.
All photos courtesy of Base Entertainment Asia & Noel Teo.