By Ray Bennett
LONDON –”Jersey Boys,” the pop musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons that has had a long Tony Award-winning Broadway run, finally made it to London’s West End with a British cast and it’s great finally to see what all the fuss is about.
Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio from the real Four Seasons were on hand Tuesday night at the Prince Edward Theatre for the London first night and their appearance topped a great night with a packed house on their feet for the Broadway transfer.
The show started off at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, which has been headed for 25 years by two-time Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff. Named recently as co-artistic director of the Stratford Festival in Canada, McAnuff’s track record includes Roger Miller’s “Big River,” Pete Townshend’s “The Who’s Tommy” and Randy Newman’s wonderful but ignored “Faust.”
Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice constructed a sturdy platform to tell the story of four kids from the neighborhood who were determined to escape the clutches of poverty and crime. Not entirely to escape, as the mob’s tentacles intruded along the way to make life difficult, but to win fame and riches.
Director McAnuff and the rest of the Broadway creative team are all on board and they’ve found a terrific cast of U.K. performers to carry the torch. Ryan Molloy’s grasp of the Valli sound is uncanny and he is able to convey not only the growth of the character but also the increasing richness of his vocals.
Stephen Ashfield is engagingly bluff as Bob Gaudio, the songwriter who came along at just the right time to carry the boys to the top of the pop world. Philip Bulcock captures the insouciance of Nick Massi, whose appetite for pop glory waned along the way. And Glenn Carter gives tough guy Tommy DeVito, who pushed the group forward but gave in too easily to the temptations along the way, the right degree of swagger.
Like most jukebox musicals, the show scrimps on scenery and choreography but that doesn’t matter as it has some smart and informative video and cartoon projections. The focus is tight on the band members and the drama is enhanced greatly by the lighting design of deserved Tony winner Howard Binkley.
Above all, the 33 songs with all the hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Working My Way Back to You” and “Rag Doll” are put across in sensational fashion.
Some critics here wonder if the backstory will interest U.K. theatergoers but whereas many couldn’t tell Arkansas from Utah, New Jersey is Sinatra, Nicholson and Springsteen. They know.
Venue: Prince Edward Theatre, runs through Oct. 18; Cast: Ryan Molloy; Stephen Ashfield; Philip Bulcock; Glenn Carter; Simon Adkins; Suzy Bastone; Michelle Francis; Jye Frasca; Stuart Milligan; Book: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice; Music: Bob Gaudio; Lyrics: Bob Crewe; Director: Des McAnuff; Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo; Musical supervisor: Ron Melrose; Scenic designer: Klara Zieglerova; Costume designer: Jess Goldstein; Lighting designer: Howard Binkley; Sound designer: Steve Canyon Kennedy; Projection design: Michael Clark.
A version of this review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.