Jersey Boys Returns To Birmingham In Style

It lays a claim to being the greatest musical of them all, and last night it started it’s UK tour with a press night at the New Alexandra Theatre in serious style. Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons, is the musical that has it all – instantly recognisable songs, strong performances, and a story that is so incredible in its highs and lows it could almost be a work of fiction. The fact that it is all true makes this truly special – potent theatrical magic that is simply mesmorising.

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The story of Frankie Valli and the original Four Seasons is the stuff of legends. When Tommy DeVito hears Frankie Castelluccio (Valli) sing, he knows that his amazing falsetto voice could be the key to stardom for his band. But run ins with the law, numerous line up changes and a set list based on cover versions of standards all hinder their rise to any sort of fame. It is only when former teenage one hit wonder (‘He wears short shorts’) and songwriter Bob Gaudio joins the group that they hit on the magic formula of pop hits that will lead to super stardom. However, Tommy’s debts and dodgy dealings catch up with the Four Seasons at the height of their fame, leaving the band in pieces and Frankie to go it alone, with Bob as songwriter behind the scenes. But the brilliant pop they create at their height means they are destined for an appearance in musics Hall of Fame, a legendary group with an incredible back story and back catalogue.

Photos by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Frankie is played by Michael Watson. He delivers a faultless performance, with his wonderful falsetto voice a great match for those faultless songs, particular in the sublime rendition of ‘Can’t take my eyes off You’. He also shows great acting talent too, showing how Frankie grows from a gauche teenager to a man in charge of his own destiny, you really feel his heartbreak over his marriage and loss of his daughter. Simon Bailey is  fabulous as Tommy, playing the role as a brutal, bullish bully who is never quite as in control of ‘his’ band as he thinks. He has many of the best one liners in the show, and he delivers them in perfect, New Jersey wisecracking style. Tommy is his own worst enemy, but it is hard not to like him, and his interactions with a young Joe Pesci are a hoot.

Declan Egan is also perfect in the role of Bob Gaudio, playing the former teen protegee as the voice of reason, wise beyond his years, but also with a sense of fun, especially during the ‘Oh what a night’ scene midway through the first half. Rounding out the trio is Nick Massi, once again played as a man of few words by Lewis Griffiths. He describes himself as the Ringo of the group, and has one of the funniest scenes when he describes what it has been like to share a room for 10 years with Tommy De Vito. This is the most expression he exhibits during a brilliant, poker faced performance. Lewis is the quiet hero of the piece and I love the way he plays the role, a cool and laconic star.

Left to right: Declan Egan, Michael Watson, Simon Bailey, Lewis Griffiths
by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

The musical harmonies in those classic songs are spine-tingling  and brilliant, with the trio of Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk like a man a definite high point. But there are so many other brilliant songs, from the poignant ‘My eyes adored you’, to the angriness of ‘Beggin’, the urgency of ‘Let’s hang on’ to the triumphant comeback single ‘Who loves you’, that in any other musical, every song could be a high point.

So much more than a jukebox musical, Jersey Boys is brutal and brilliant, shocking and funny, with the most wonderful soundtrack around.Jersey Boys is the must see show in Birmingham this Christmas

Jersey Boys New Alexandra Theatre

Until 6th January 2018. Click here for ticket information.

Deathtrap At The New Alex Theatre – Deliciously Chilling

A famous, successful writer now suffering from writer’s block, a young student who has written the perfect play and a wife who is worried that her husband is about to turn killer. This is the exciting premise of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, which opened at Birmingham’s New Alex Theatre last night. It was a deliciously chilliing night of theatre, with shocks and jumps galore, and enough twists and turns to keep the audience constantly on the edge of its seat. I loved it.

Sidney Bruhl is a successful writer who is now struggling to write a new play after the failure of his last effort. Married to the supportive Myra in a seemingly happy union, he receives a play through the post from an ex student who attended one of his seminars. The play is Deathtrap, and Sidney believes it to be perfect, and wishes aloud that he had wrote it as it is likely to be a big hit. When he finds that there are only two copies of the play, and that he already has one of them in his hands, he invites the student, Clifford Anderson, to his remote home to ‘work on the play’, but really has murder in mind. But who’s murder? The issue is made all the murkier by his neighbour, Helga ten Dorp, a famed clairvoyent with very strong extra sensory perception, especially when she enters the Bruhl’s house, where she has a strong sense of death. Deathtrap twists in one direction, and then another, as cross and double cross, surprising revelations and shocks galore lead to a satisfyingly macabre conclusion.

Deathtrap is made up of a cast of just five characters, and the ensemble cast in this version is brilliant. The Eastenders contigent of Paul Bradley (Sidney) and Jessie Wallace (Myra) have a fabulous chemistry that rings true as a married couple. Paul plays Sidney as a man who is deceptively cheery, amiable man who has an edge, when he loses his temper you can see that he could be capable of acts of violent. it is a great performance of someone who could turn on a pin. Jessie Wallace shows her range playing Myra, she is a world away from brassy Kat Slater, starting out the play with understated calmness, but becoming more frantic and then terrified as she faces the fact her husband could be a murderer. Only at the end of the terrible events of Act 1 does she show another side of her character, another surprising twist in a tale full of them.

Sam Phillips is also very good as Clifford Anderson, playing the character with idealised charm and innocence, until he is revealed to be anything but. Beverly Klein is hilarious as Helga ten Dorp, divinely overacting her ESP, and given all the best one liners that she delivers with perfect comic timing. The cast is round out by Porter Milgrim as the lawyer Julien Ball, who proves to be another character who has more facets than you immediately sense.

Deathtrap all takes place in one room, but the set never feels claustrophobic. This is due in no small part to the excerpts of classic movies that break up the scenes, and are a clue to what is really going on – a really clever device to move the action along.

Deathtrap is clever, cunning and utterly calculating. All this makes it a devilishly good night of theatre. Go See.

Deathtrap New Alex Theatre

Wednesday 8th – Saturday 11th November

Click here for ticket information

 

Son Of A Preacher Man At The New Alex Theatre

The wondrous, timeless music of Dusty Springfield filled the New Alex Theatre last night with the opening of the crowd pleasing musical ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, a jukebox musical telling a story of unrequited love using the classic hits of the great lady. And while ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ is no classic, it’s talented cast and those wonderful songs make it a good solid night of entertainment.

The story revolves around three lonely people who are all suffering from loss and have been unlucky in love. Paul (Michael Howe) is still yearning for Jack, a man he met at the Preacher Man record shop in the 1960s, but never revealed his feelings to. Alison (Debra Stephenson) is a lonely widow who has developed feelings for a barely legal schoolboy she has been tutoring (the most uncomfortable storyline to be honest), whilst Kat (Diana Vickers) has just lost her gran and is yearning for a gorgeous hunk(Liam Vincent-Kilbride) who rejected her profile on Match.com. These three people all descend on the old Preacher Man record store on Dean Street, Soho, in the hope of finding some answers from the legendary owner. Instead they find his son (hence the title) Simon, played by Ian Reddington, who has none of the charisma of his father, with the record shop now turned into a coffee bar. But maybe Simon, with the help of the trusty(and rather fabulous Cappuccino Sisters) can help these lonely, lost people find true love somehow.

The cast is excellent, with Diana Vickers showing just why she should’ve won X Factor with ease. She adds her own spin on the Dusty songs, and with the exception of the thrusting and gyrating of ‘Stay Awhile’ each number is a success. Ian Reddington underplays his role to give a natural, lovely performance as Simon, a man lost in the shadows of his father. Debra Stephenson tackles what could be a difficult, uneasy role so well, making Alison come across as sweet and lonely rather than predatory, whilst it would be hard not to love Michael Howe as still hopeful Paul, he plays the role with such charm and enthusiasm. And I loved the Cappuccino sisters, great singers and performers who added a touch of early 1960s era humour to the show.

 

But it has to be said that the story is paper thin, with the ending where everyone suddenly finds love at exactly the same time feeling rather rushed, and maybe just a little too twee for what is, after all, adult entertainment. And, I still need to understand why the bereavement counselor was dancing like a chicken and dressed in what looked like bondage gear…yes that was a strange moment.

So when it comes to Son of a Preacher Man, I liked it, but didn’t love it. But if you love the music of Dusty Springfield this could be the one for you.

 

Son of a Preacher Man

New Alex Theatre 14-16th September

Click here for ticket information.