Wednesday March 19, 2008
Oh what a night of magical memories.
A musical about four no-hoper Italian-American kids, high school dropouts from the wrong side of town, the type you would take a baseball bat to if they got near your daughter and who hang out with the Mob?
Sure thing, bud - as they say up in New Joisey and among the money-men of Broadway.
For this is the true-life, mega-hit story of the Four Seasons, a group of rough lads from the threatening parts of Newark who rose to sell 175 million albums worldwide.
Classic songs like December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Sherry, Walk Like A Man and that baby-boomers' love ballad, Can't Take My Eyes Off You, topped the charts between 1962 and 1968. And this was a time when American bands were being trampled by the great British invasion led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The show, with its sharp edge and documentary style, stunned Broadway - and it did just that again last night in London.
The audience rose as one at the end of the show that brought memories flooding back to many. And on stage it was the four young men, in their sharp Italian suits and slicked-down hair, who brought back that close harmony sound that became iconic.
Ryan Molloy as Frankie Valli could have been the original star himself (he was in the audience last night). There was that same piercing, melodious jumping falsetto voice - a voice that he handled as though it was a musical instrument rather than something coming from within him.
This was a brilliant performance - not just a talented actor doing some musical impersonation. Molloy did far more that that - bringing passion, even sadness, to the story of Frankie Valli.
The other actors who played the three other members of the Four Seasons were remarkable, each in their own way.
Stephen Ashfield as Bob Gaudio, always the serious one in the group and the composer of many hits, brought an unshowy delicacy to a role which, in real life, must have been very difficult.
They were, by all accounts, a highly temperamental bunch, their careers riddled with dissension, debt and self-doubt.
Philip Bulcock brought a sadness to the late Nick Massi. But the acting honours must go to Glenn Carter as Tommy DeVito.
DeVito's tenacity initiated the group back in New Jersey but his egomania, profligate spending and generally louche behaviour finally contributed to the group's break-up.
Glenn Carter captures perfectly DeVito's irredeemable wickedness and even at the end you see him as an unreformed character.
The stage design, by Klara Zieglerova, is clever and fast-moving, using changing and powerful Pop Art designs.
The whole show recreates the atmosphere of the times when the Four Seasons were at the height of their fame. And it also highlights the closeness of the Mafia - always there, sinister and dark, in the background.
This is an utterly wonderful show full of vitality, pace and power. It is full of atmosphere and I half expected to see Tony Soprano and his chums leading last night's great ovation. And it is one of those shows which, as you go home, still has your head filled with its magical songs.
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