Since its inception on Broadway in 2005 and subsequent tours across the world, the musical Jersey Boys has popularised the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons for a very new generation and refreshed it for the old. As an effect of this New Jersey Nights has been born.
Cynically this could be regarded as a cheap cash in for those revitalised new and old fans and when first entering the theatre the stage set could suggest that. Comprising of a bland makeshift bar set-up (backboards on wheels portraying the walls, a bar and to the right a table and chairs), it doesn't look particularly inviting. However as the four piece band take their places, initially behind the bar walls and a lone barman fiddles with the vintage radio for a signal, the stage soon becomes alive.
First the six dancers take to the stage dancing to a none Frankie Valli song and then the Four Seasons themselves take to the stage. Consisting of Damion Scarcella, Jonathan Hawkins, Adam Dougal and William Hazell, they immediately make an impressive impact with their lively rendition of “Oh What A Night”. The bulk of the more familiar songs to most are performed during the first act including the very finely performed “Sherry” where Sarcella clearly shows he can hit them important Valli high notes. Breaking up the songs the boys offer snippets of random facts about the group which for the best part are fillers and do suggest that the show is trying to be Jersey Boys rather than stand on its own two solid feet. There is also some attempted interaction with the audience, some more successful than others and some random jokes which occasionally work, but often don’t (it is doubtful anyone other than the boys mixed up One Direction with The Beatles). There is also a somewhat uncomfortable joke about Phil Spector, however this does manage to introduce one of the highlights of the show, as the previously dancing ladies take over stage as The Ronettes. Rachel Varney, Robyn Ford and Marianne Prinelle give impressive performances of “Be My Baby” and “Da Do Ron Ron” and while it would not be in keeping with the show, it actually would have been nice to have heard more from these.
The dancers are generally well choreographed by Emma Rogers although at times you feel they could dance a bit bigger and fill the stage more. Also during one of the early set changes they become totally pointless and a distraction as they pace around with clipboard and brooms depicting staff of a recording studio. The band also while being quite small in their number, do fill the theatre well with sound and are excellent throughout.
Returning to the Four Seasons however, the four performers work well as a team with no one consistently being Valli. Scarcella is clearly the performer who presents his famous high notes the best, while Hawkins feels the best singer of the four. Hazell however has the greatest presence on the stage, and actually makes the conversations with the audience work. His performance in the second act of “Earth Angel” with Dean Mongerio on sax is both funny and superbly vocalised. “Earth Angel” is one of several songs in the second act which have limited connection with Valli and while most are well performed they do appear fillers at times. Also in the second half on the evening there was a starting key issue at the start of “Blue Moon” from Dougal which was described as a mistake by the boys and if it was, they covered the mistake very professionally and it did ironically become a highlight of the evening with the crowd. (I have later learned that this "mistake" happened again on the Friday performace. However is was a fine little part of the show and like a lot of "ad-libbling", sometimes oddly enough if these are actually rehearsed scenes it does not impact negatively.)
The final few songs return to Valli classics with a great highlight being “Grease” performed with style by Hazell complete in his Zuko leather. With a final medley mega mix, those that are willing or (creaky bones allowing) able are up on their feet by the end and revelling in the classic tunes. This is what this show is all about, this is not a musical in anyway like Jersey Boys but a loving concert dedicated to those classic songs and while the ticket prices are a little steep for what is just a tribute act, one which if you are a fan of this music are unlikely to be disappointed with.
Performance reviewed: Monday 15th September, 2014 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
New Jersey Nights performed at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate) between Monday 15th September 2014 and Saturday 20th September 2014 and have now completed their current UK tour. A tour of China will begin later this year.
For further details visit the website at http://www.newjerseynights.com/