I went back to Geelong on Wednesday night to attend an adaptation of one of my favourite musicals of all time, Jersey Boys, in my first experience with the Geelong Lyric Theatre Society. As far as jukebox musicals are concerned, not many are as highly regarded as the story of the living legend Frankie Valli and his beloved vocal group, The Four Seasons and it’s important that you cast strong leads to portray not just one of the greatest male pop vocalists of all time but also his band and those who were major figures throughout his extraordinary life. Every company who attempts to adapt the Tony Award winning musical must ensure that they can give us a full blown spectacle instead of a concert, feature performers and production team that define what it means to be a triple threat, behind the scenes personnel who are able to build the show’s pop culture filled world from the ground up and famous figures portrayed as more than just celebrities but as human beings. Geelong Lyric Theatre Society managed to tick every one of these boxes in their outstanding retelling and by the time the night was over, they had the audience on their feet dancing and singing along to a medley of The Four Seasons greatest hits.
Geelong Lyric Theatre Society really struck gold when they hired a man who had previously starred in the role of Norm Waxman in the professional East End production of Jersey Boys to direct their production with first hand experience, Mr. Paul Watson. Although the sets were minimal (consisting mainly of platforms, steps and metal railings) and relied solely on projections and props to get the setting of each scene across, the audience was able to use their imagination in order to picture each setting as Watson was able to keep his canvas as colourful as possible. In his symbolic and structured directorial efforts, he turned in a creative vision that dived in deep to discover the roots of each member of the Four Seasons, the harsh realities of the period’s New Jersey street life and the toll that fame takes on every party involved in the most honourable of fashions. To me, the queen of Jersey Boys was the display’s musical director Kate Notini for her vibrant and virtuosic presentation of the score that she was undoubtedly capable of adapting in a way that sounded almost identical to the original recordings we bopped along to all those years ago. This is a feat that not many people can achieve when behind the baton but Notini and her trusted band rose to the occasion and blew our minds with the most authentic of arrangements where each instrument had a chance to take centre stage both figuratively and literally when playing the crispest of notes and where each voice could hold a tune exactly like their real life counterparts could when mastering the art of vocal control. As the spectacle’s choreographer, Venessa Peach pulled out all the stops to recreate the iconic dance routines that the Four Seasons and other acts of the era would utilise in their live performances, resulting in a choreographic turn that was noble and nostalgic. Despite being heavily inspired by the work of the original choreographers, all of Peach’s routines had their own unique spin to them so the chorey could stand out as not just another replica and every move that the dancers made was stronger than the last as each step commanded attention with synchronisation and confidence that is imperative for any production of Jersey Boys to be a success.
You could tell from the minute they stepped on stage that the cast of Jersey Boys had done thorough research into their character backgrounds and mannerisms to inform their portrayals of their real life counterparts and it paid off big time as many of them turned in performances of a lifetime. First, my hat goes off to the ensemble and featured cast who were instrumental in making the musical feel as full as a glass of milk and sound as delicious as one does whether they were playing family, friends, lovers, gangsters, disc jockeys, record executives or even musicians in ape costumes. Those who portrayed musicians and recording artists outside of the Four Seasons like Yannick, The Angels and so many more brought their A-game just as much as the titular Jersey Boys did with performances that deserve equal amounts of recognition for their efforts. On to leads, we begin with one half of the Four Seasons, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi whose roles were rrspectively tackled by two gifted actors with multiple years of experience in both the amateur and professional scenes, Andrew Smith and Adamo Di Biase. Smith was able to demonstrate Gaudio’s transition from an innocent boy songwriter into the man in charge of the band and Frankie Valli’s career so smoothly and exhibited a natural stage presence in a mature and meaningful performance that raised his career to a whole new level. Meanwhile, Di Biase elevated his over twenty-five year career even further as he was able to capture Massi’s loyalty to his friends/bandmates, his troubles with alcohol and the law and his personal struggles that influenced his decision to leave The Four Seasons and return home in a performance that was telling, tried and truthful.
Next, we dive into three ladies who left a lasting impact on Frankie Valli’s life, his first wife Mary Delgado, his long time journalist partner Lorraine and his youngest daughter Francine Castelluccio who were portrayed by Madeleine Hoogstra, Ella and Paris Walsh respectively. All three ladies effectively showcased the price one pays when their loved one’s fame takes them away for days, weeks, months or even years at a time in honest and heartwrenching performances which saw them yearning for Valli more and more with each scene and covered their characters’ sad outcomes with the purest forms of emotion. Dominic Muirhead as Gyp DCarlo, Charlie McIntyre as Norm Waxman and Gabriel Wenyika as Barry Belson all brought action, astonishment and occasional amusement to their characterisations that kept the excitement of the show going in the scenes that didn’t feature a musical number and they exuded confidence and self-security with the delivery of every line to ensure their roles in Jersey Boys would not be forgotten any time soon. Two of the biggest standouts in the production were Lochie Slater and David Keele with their portrayals of a young version of Academy Award winning actor Joe Pesci and mastermind musical producer and songwriter Bob Crewe. Slater nailed Pesci’s speaking voice down to a T in his bold, beaming and believable characterisation of the Goodfellas star pre-fame even with little stage time, still guaranteeing the crowd with a memorable performance that would never be lost in the shadow of the larger players and highlighted his part in the Four Seasons story more than anyone else has done before. Keele, on the other hand, was fun and flamboyant in a characterisation that some would think was as lively as the Four Seasons themselves despite not having a song to sing in the entire musical and even though Crewe was not as openly gay in real life compared to how he’s seen in the musical, the man who played him was able to let his character breathe freely with no apologies and it made up for the many years where Crewe had to conceal his true identity in a fitting tribute.
Geelong Lyric Theatre Society had not one but two kings in their masterful retelling of Jersey Boys, both of whom have spent more than two decades perfecting their craft in the professional scene before taking on roles in this show which they were without a doubt, born to play and they were Andrew Lorenzo’s wealthy and wisecracking role as Tommy DeVito and Duane McGregor’s classic and commanding role as Frankie Valli himself. It wasn’t just Lorenzo’s flawlessly consistent Jersey accent and attitude that sold his portrayal of DeVito, it was also how he took care of his fellow onstage bandmates like brothers, how his pride helped cause him to dig himself into a tax hole of over half a million dollars and how his outgoing nature led to many connections in both the right and wrong places as if he was the real article. No matter how many times the real Tommy DeVito messed up throughout his lifetime, Lorenzo often got the audience on his side with his utilisation of the human element and garnered adoration from the crowd for a performance that could almost be considered method and a dedication to his profession that knows no bounds. As for McGregor, playing the leader of The Four Seasons was more than just a dream come true, it was destiny because he and his counterpart’s vocal chops were practically identical from his mid range to his trademark falsetto and in a performance that Valli himself could possibly recognise as one of the tops up there with his original Broadway performer John Lloyd Young, he embodied everything that the living music legend was and still is. McGregor’s portrayal was one that could get all the girls in the audience screaming his name like he was a teen idol with a characterisation that magnificently explored the highs and lows of Valli’s life, an angelic voice sent from the gods above and dance skills that had us swooning, leaving him as the ultimate triple threat.
Geelong Lyric Theatre Society are not the first and certainly won’t be the last to adapt Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons biographical story in the amateur theatre scene but they did provide the audience an entertaining night that made you fall in love with the 60s pop sensations all over again. Professional style vocals, spot on accents and production work that transported you back to the time frame the show is set in convinced the audience that we were watching the real thing play out live right before our eyes and they did it way better than any tribute band ever could and if this is what the company can achieve for their final show of the year, I can only imagine what they can do with their first show next year. Special shoutout to Derek Ingles and Paul Tyson for the warm welcome they gave me to their company and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with Jersey Boys for a bedazzling season so far. If you haven’t gotten your tickets to the spectacle as of yet, make sure you grab them before they close this weekend, support the company and local theatre. Congratulations Geelong Lyric Theatre Society for a fantastic display and remember to keep walking like a man with your heads held high. Oh What A Night.