The Theatreguide.London Review
Prince Edward Theatre 2008 - 2014; Piccadilly Theatre 2014 - 2017; Trafalgar Theatre 2021 -
(Be aware - long running shows will have had cast changes since our review was written)
In the 1950s some New Jersey kids started singing on street corners and, a few changes in line-up (and a few changes in name) later, became The Four Seasons.
You know, as in Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Big Girls Don't Cry, Candy Girl, Let's Hang On . . . .
Yes, you do, even if you're not as old as I am. The combination of Frankie Valli's soaring falsetto, the tight harmonies of street corner doo-wop, and the songs of Bob Gaudio gave the group a unique sound as pure and special in its way as, say, the Beach Boys or the Beatles.
And now from Broadway comes this musical filled with their songs and telling their story. And it rocks.
How could it help it, with that great songbook and with a story that goes beyond the simple and-then-they-sang outline of Buddy and other rock bios?
Writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice interviewed the surviving members of the group and discovered differing versions of history, so they incorporated those disagreements into the musical's story line. Each member of the group takes a turn telling the story as he remembers it, contradictions and all.
To hear Tommy DeVito tell it, he was the founder and driving force, who discovered and nurtured Frankie and the others and led them to stardom. No, says Bob Gaudio when his turn comes, Tommy was a drag on the group and they were going nowhere until they started doing his songs, and after that it was great.
Well, it was never all that great, says Nick Massi, remembering the quarrels and betrayals that soured even their days at the top. And Frankie Valli's is the survivor's story, of just wanting to sing and be loyal to his friends, and get through the ups and downs of life.
And of course there are a couple of dozen of those great songs along the way, songs so good that they don't need nostalgia to gild them. And while most of them come in chronological order, a few, like Walk Like A Man, Fallen Angel and Bye Bye Baby, are inserted where they resonate nicely with plot events.
It has to be said that, taken strictly as a tribute act, the London cast are not consistently top drawer. Perhaps nobody could duplicate the purity and power of Frankie Valli's falsetto, but Ryan Molloy gets near it only intermittently - right on the money in Sherry and Let's Hang On and the yodelling parts ('Cry-yi-yi') of Big Girls Don't Cry, but elsewhere spoiled by a muddying nasality Frankie never had.
But only a purist and curmudgeon like me would be bothered by that, though I urge those who love the show to let it send you back to the original recordings.
Molloy, Stephen Ashfield (Gaudio), Glenn Carter (DeVito) and Philip Bulcock (Massi) do create four recognisable, believable and sympathetic characters so that you don't just wait impatiently for the next song but care about their adventure.
The rest of the cast double and quadruple roles as Everyone Else, Simon Adkins standing out as supportive record producer Bob Crewe.
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