Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Did London Critics Find Jersey Boys Too Good To Be True?

Did London Critics Find Jersey Boys Too Good To Be True?

Last evening, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2006 enjoyed its first night -- or as we Yanks would say, "opening night" -- at London's Prince Edward Theatre.

Lest any Brits think this is some pastoral show about farm boys growing up in the Bailiwick of Jersey, Jersey Boys instead tells the story of New Jersey's fifties pop sensations, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Reviews ranged from praise to borderline pans.

Complimenting that "Jersey Boys is a blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes, straight-up-no-chaser kind of show," Charles Spencer of The Telegraph offers the most unqualified praise: "It has a quality you rarely find in musicals -- gritty honesty -- as well as the best collection of pop hits since Mamma Mia!... [T]he story is fascinatingly told through the eyes of each of the original band members, so that the audience gets a range of viewpoints. Jersey Boys superbly captures the thrills and tensions of four testosterone-charged young men discovering fame and fortune after years of dogged failure."

Despite his admission that "Compendium shows...aren’t my favourite tipple," The Times' Benedict Nightingale applauds with four out of five stars: "It has the character, the narrative interest and the sense of place -- as the backcloth indicates, the industrial badlands west of the Hudson River -- to rise way above its genre.... Indeed, there were times last night when I felt the performers were making even The Beatles sound somewhat lacking in musical texture. Since when did John, Paul or George have the soaring falsetto that Ryan Molloy’s Valli effortlessly produces?... Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, have a fine eye for what’s unusual and extreme."

Noting how he "thoroughly enjoyed it, despite some clunkingly awful lines," The Daily Mail 's Quentin Letts is primarily positive: "There are two remarkable things about Jersey Boys, the Frankie Valli bio-musical which had a splashy opening last night. The first is the fluting voice of Ryan Molloy who plays 1960s pop canary Valli and sings like a man possessed. The second is the fact that a show with quite so many cliches and such a humdrum plot still manages to elicit a tear or two."

Concluding that "This may be an American import too many," Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh offers three out of five stars: "Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman...have injected regular slugs of trenchant truth-telling into their musical biography.... Des McAnuff's slickly animated production takes far too long to reach the glory days, having spent excessive time with Carter's DeVito, the tough-talking, self-admiring founder who recruits Frankie and song-writer, Stephen Ashfield's oddly insipid Bob Gaudio. The show does, however, at last fly high with some of those hit anthems, dynamically staged. (As Valli) Molloy exercises an arresting, powerhouse of a voice, that ascends from tenor to falsetto in emotional bounds..."

Criticizing Jersey Boys as "a case of 'Oh What A Faintly Frustrating Night,'" Paul Taylor of The Independent offers a mixed review that ends on the downbeat: "The book by Woody Allen collaborator, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice has a terse, savvy wit.... And in strong, soaring voice, Ryan Molloy skilfully intensifies the emotional power as the diminutive Frankie.... [T]he idea of Jersey and many of the cultural references fail to stir the requisite strength of emotion in a British audience. So here, much of the short-winded drama feels like an exercise in vicarious nostalgia -- a trip down somebody else's memory lane."

As of this writing, no review is currently posted on The Guardian's Web site.

So it's a mixed bag for Jersey Boys in London. Will ticket sales increase as a result? Well, coming too soon on the heels of that other, more-acclaimed American export, that may be too good to be true.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
Oh What A Night: Jersey Boys In London (March 18, 2008)
Go East, Young Musical, Go East (July 26, 2007)
West End Boys? (March 26, 2007)
BOYS' BIG NIGHT OUT: And The Tony Goes To... Complete List of Winners (June 12, 2006)

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At 21 March, 2008, Blogger Pinky said...

I thought among "jukebox musicals" this was the terms of cohesion of the book with the score. However, I felt that the show was more of a concert. I did like it because of the more familiar songs and the fast paced production but I have to say Light in the Piazza should have won Best Musical that year.

Oh and before I forget, we at Stage-Notes are also humbled that we made it to your "must read blogs". Thanks a lot!


At 21 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Pinky, Thanks so much for your comments!

My personal favorite among jukebox musicals is Mamma Mia! hands-down. Quite the guilty pleasure. And I can't wait for the movie so I can get my ABBA on.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Four Seasons. In fact, I now have tickets to see the real deal (well, at least Frankie Valli with a reconstituted FS) in May. I enjoy their music and have them, rather than the cast album, in my CD player often.

Finally, The Light In The Piazza didn't lose to Jersey Boys - it lost out to Monty Python's Spamalot (in my humble opinion, MPS was the least of the four shows nominated in 2005). Jersey Boys beat out The Color Purple, The Drowsy Chaperone and The Wedding Singer. My favorite of the bunch was TDC.

Thanks again for checking in here - hope you feel free to visit, and comment, often!

At 21 March, 2008, Blogger Pinky said...

First, I too am excited about the Mamma Mia movie

Second, ha ha I got my Tony years mixed up....and to think it's only been a few years...cobwebs in my mind making it lets get this straight.....loved Light in the Piazza more than Spamalot....and loved Drowsy more that Jersey :)

At 21 March, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I agree with you Pinky on both counts. Great minds!

At 29 April, 2009, Anonymous Cheapest Jersey Boys Tickets said...

2009 show was standing ovations. Could not have enjoyed Broadway more. The Best Show we have seen on Broadway so far.


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