Jersey Boys, review: the Four Seasons jukebox musical remains precision-engineered entertainment

Jersey Boys at Trafalgar Theatre, 2023
Jersey Boys at Trafalgar Theatre, 2023 - Marc Brenner

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Well, in the case of the Four Seasons jukebox musical Jersey Boys – which had a dominant nine-year run in London following its 2008 debut, and is now firmly re-ensconced in the West End with this punchy revival – the slipperiness of the truth actually enhances this potent rags-to-riches rock ‘n’ roll fable.

Book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice build a Rashomon effect-like narrative from the four band members’ differing accounts of their Swinging Sixties rise and fall. Each thinks they are the hero: combative Tommy DeVito, who initially runs the group; genius songwriter Bob Gaudio; shrewd bass player Nick Massi; and angelic-voiced Frankie Valli.

This enduring Jersey Boys musical is precision-engineered entertainment, cleverly contrasting a honeyed back catalogue – the irresistible likes of Sherry, Beggin’ and December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) – with the rough-and-tumble reality: loan sharks, mafia dons, gambling debts, prison stints. It’s the American Dream via Goodfellas (Joe Pesci even pops up as a hustling kid).

Des McAnuff’s production is a great fit with the relatively intimate Trafalgar Theatre, honing in on the group’s shifting dynamics. We see Valli initially welcome, then come to resent, DeVito treating him like a younger brother, and DeVito, in turn, feeling threatened by the growing closeness between Gaudio and Valli, who work out a side deal. Unlike their luminous harmonies (the first time this quartet sings together is shiver-inducing), they can’t stay in tune with one another.

The show both questions and indulges in the band’s self-styled working-class hero image. There’s a certain nostalgia for this “walk like a man” unreconstructed masculinity – problems are solved by a punch or a wad of cash, and a handshake is a binding promise – but, for all the talk of duty to family, the guys leave a trail of botched marriages and estranged children. Yet by centring their blokey attitudes, the musical itself short-changes its female characters.

Luke Suri as Frankie Valli
Luke Suri as Frankie Valli - Marc Brenner

Leading the current Jersey Boys cast, Peter Nash strongly conveys how the outwardly slick operator DeVito never really outgrows his insecure grifting youth, however he could supply more fireworks. Karl James Wilson is hilarious as the brooding, fastidious Massi (his rant about the uselessness of tiny hotel soaps is delightful), and Declan Egan strikes an effective contrast with the sensitive, TS Eliot-quoting prodigy Gaudio.

But you can’t take your eyes off Luke Suri, making a notable West End debut. Not only does he nail Valli’s eerily beatific falsetto, sweet and delicate as spun sugar, he also gives him a hot-headed volatility which makes his arc the most compelling one, and his livewire musical performances blistering.

Klara Zieglerova’s bi-fold scaffold set keeps the show rooted in industrial blue-collar New Jersey, while Michael Clark’s projections of Roy Lichtenstein-aping cartoons wittily mirror the action. You don’t need much else: the music is the big draw, bolstered by Sergio Trujillo’s finger-clicking, step-digging, impeccably synchronised choreography. It’s just too good to be true.

Booking until Jan 28;