December 9, 2012
Review Of Jersey Boys - Marina Bay Sands Theatre, 6 December 2012
Unless you've been living in a mountain cave these past few weeks, you would've heard about Jersey Boys.
It opened to rave reviews, the likes of which I've never seen for a musical staged at the Marina Bay Sands thus far. However, stubborn cynic that I am with regards to local journalists, I relied on word of mouth before making the final decision.
One of my emergency medicine residents deserves the credit for giving me the push I needed. It certainly helps that she, too, has experience with Broadway shows. Her effusive praise for Jersey Boys convinced me to see it with 3 family members in tow.
The result? An awesome evening of great performances which reinforced my great love for the musical, and helped me appreciate the extraordinary talent of the South African cast.
I have yet to meet a single person who hasn't fallen under the Jersey Boys spell after watching it, and the show's longevity - both on Broadway and internationally - is excellent proof of its massive popularity. After all, what's not to like about an endless parade of hit songs from the '60s, delivered by 4 young, good-looking actors, supported with crowd-pleasing dance choreography, sharp suits, a fast-paced, compelling story, and generous doses of humour?
JB has become a lucrative franchise all over the world, and the winning formula remains intact here as well. Everything I remember from the 2007 Broadway staging has been reproduced. As the saying goes: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
So with that in mind, I'm going to leave out the plot and song list, concentrating instead on the 4 leads. Pictured above, they are - from left to right - Emmanuel Castis ( who plays Nick Massi ), Grant Almirall ( Frankie Valli ), Kenneth Meyer ( Bob Gaudio ) and Daniel Buys ( Tommy DeVito ).
Let me assure you, these gentlemen will blow your mind. :)
Chemistry is key in any ensemble, and they have got it in spades. Despite being seated in the 20th row - something I regret in hindsight! - I was riveted from beginning to end, and so was the entire crowd in the 80-90% filled theatre.
Everything was executed flawlessly. No-one flubbed a line, entrances and exits were timed perfectly, and I could sense that members of the audience were holding back coughs and sneezes during the most dramatic scenes. I thought this sort of thing only happened during classical concerts? :D
Each character / actor had his moments to shine. For Emmanuel / Nick, it was a constant refrain about wanting to start his own group, which became a running joke throughout the show. Like Robert Spencer, who played the character on Broadway in the original cast, Emmanuel's standout scene involved Nick lambasting Tommy about his horrifying toilet habits, and had everyone in stitches. Also, listen out for the "Ringo" punchline. :)
Kenneth is perfectly cast as Bob Gaudio. The surreal part is, he even sounds like Daniel Reichard, who played Gaudio on Broadway. Having listened to the original cast recording hundreds - or maybe thousands - of times, I literally got chills when Kenneth launched into Cry For Me, the first group number. His powerful voice reverberated throughout the theatre, heralding the start of an increasingly rowdy series of cheers as the show progressed.
Tommy DeVito, aka the wise guy in the bunch, is front and centre in quite a few scenes. Playing the character with the biggest attitude is always challenging, but Daniel Buys expertly balances ego and charm, delivering a winning performance which had the audience eating out of his hand. He also demonstrated dramatic flair, but was most in his element during the musical numbers, when his cheekiness and fancy footwork took centrestage.
Broadway's Christian Hoff, who won a Tony for the role, was great, but still not this fun to watch! :)
Last but not least, we have Frankie Valli, one of the music industry's most unique and memorable stars of all time. It snagged John Lloyd Young a Best Actor Tony, and I consider it one of the toughest musical parts to carry off, just below, say, the lead in Phantom Of The Opera.
It's true that I was reluctant to watch this production because of concerns about the vocal gymnastics involved. I don't have perfect pitch by definition, but anything that veers off key feels like fingernails on a blackboard. In addition, I had no experience with actors from South Africa. In short, it could go either way.
Here's where I'll digress a little. Over the years, I've attended plays and musicals featuring Singaporean or Asian casts, with mixed results. In 2011, I returned to New York, overdosed on star-studded productions, then came home and saw Kevin Spacey in Richard III at the Esplanade. Twice.
I thought I would eventually wean myself off shows which didn't fit "the gold standard" mould, then Pangdemonium's Spring Awakening came along in February 2012, followed by Swimming With Sharks in September, and the Singapore Repertory Theatre's God Of Carnage in November. They opened my mind to the vast talent which exists both locally and regionally ( sorry, I guess I'm a very late bloomer! ), and Jersey Boys is another excellent example.
Grant Almirall, who's cast as Frankie, is incredible. He embodies the character so fully, it's like being back on Broadway all over again. His vocals aren't an exact match for Lloyd Young's - the highest registers are a little shaky at times and the vibrato isn't as robust - but it does depend on each individual's range. I'm pretty sure he's been improving since previews began, and will continue to do so over the next few months.
The way I see it, anyone who can hit notes I can only dream about - a man, no less! - is a walking miracle. Doing it 6 times a week for the most part of a 2-hour show is practically superhuman.
But my favourite moments are the ballads, and on these, Grant dazzles effortlessly. My Eyes Adored You and Fallen Angel are gorgeously sung, but his rendition of Can't Take My Eyes Off You was note-perfect, and easily the highlight of the entire musical. The audience that night obviously agreed, bestowing the loudest cheers after Grant completed his performance.
By the time Who Loves You made its appearance, the excitement coursing through the theatre reached the tipping point, spilling over into the cast's encore - a choreographed reprise of Oh What A Night.
I was hoping for a full standing ovation, but alas, only small scattered groups showed their appreciation, and most of the audience in the front section remained firmly planted in their seats.
I did my part by cheering from my distant location every time I had the chance. When I see it again in late January, I'll be in the 5th row, and will make it my mission to get everyone around me to let loose.
Well, that's the plan. Whether I succeed is another issue. :)
When I called the MBS box office this evening, all the February performances were sold out, and tickets for those in January were going fast. This is unprecedented! Congratulations to the Jersey Boys team on their well-deserved success. :)
Before I conclude, many sincere thanks to Grant, Daniel, Kenneth and Emmanuel, who met me, my mum and my cousin's 2 teenage daughters at the stage door after the show following a series of communications via Facebook.
We were delayed by the huge crowd at the theatre, but the actors all came out together and waited for us! The meet and greet took about 10-15 minutes, and they were absolutely wonderful.
There was a hilarious conversation about chilli crab, those little bun thingies, and Jumbo seafood. ( Attention, Jumbo, I endorsed your restaurant! :)) I was especially glad to be standing right next to Grant, and made sure to tell him how much I enjoyed Can't Take My Eyes Off You.
And Daniel gave my cousin's 12-year-old daughter a hug, which was really sweet. :)
As for her 16-year-old sister, she was too stunned to say much, only managing to squeak 2 words throughout the whole encounter, i.e. "I'm starstruck!"
A blond, bespectacled lady was there as well. ( I think her name is Yolanda, but please correct me if I'm wrong, because a lot of things were happening at once and I may be mistaken. )
She helped with the photos and autographs, and was aware that I'd seen the Broadway version of Jersey Boys. However, I firmly stated that Thursday's performance was just as impressive. Hope she believes me. :)
There you have it, dear readers - a fabulous show which must not be missed, and be sure to spread the word if you've already seen it!
South Africa, prepare yourself for a massive treat when the musical makes its next stop there in April.
And to the 4 lovely gentlemen - we hope you had a fantastic time in Singapore! We will all remember you very fondly. :D