Yesterday saw me make a return to London for a day with two of the things I love most: fabulous friends and a wonderful show! Many of you will know that I saw Jersey Boys for the first time only last year to my complete and utter shame; now I can’t imagine my theatregoing without it as a staple somewhere in my calendar. This 3rd visit saw us take a trip to the Piccadilly Theatre, its new home after relocating from the Prince Edward, which is currently making way for Miss Saigon, and let me tell you: third time is definitely a charm!
When we were shown to our seats, I admit I had a moment of sheer panic. The ‘wheelchair space’ is on the end of the first row of the dress circle, and space to manoeuvre is so minimal, I thought for a horrible few moments: ‘There’s no way I’m getting my chair in here!’ But thanks to the very kind and incredibly strong usher (seriously, my wheelchair is a mighty heavy beast) we got settled in to enjoy the show.
For me, it was like watching the show with new eyes, not least because the view is miles better from my seat. At the Prince Edward, I was looking at the action sideways on which meant I missed a lot of the facial expressions and subtle nuances, not to mention having a really sore neck by show end from leaning over to see better! Here though, you could see the entire stage. This definitely helped me feel more of a connection to the action rather than being distanced from it, and also helped on the eye contact front; Jon Boydon looked up and caught my eye a few times, which made me smile all the more! Also, the Piccadilly is vastly smaller than its predecessor, which I think helps work wonders with a show like Jersey Boys. On my previous two visits I often wondered how the actors felt playing in such a huge space, and wondered if they ever felt the same kind of distance from the audience as I did watching them from my seat. None of that here though! I think the intimacy really helps the vibe of the show, it definitely felt to me much more slick and tight as a whole and I think it helps the actors (especially the four leads) relax and connect more tightly with one another. That’s not to say there was a lack of chemistry between my previous casts; I just felt there was a more playful and enthusiastic vibe here which was wonderful to see and hear from my closer vantage point.
There are some new ladies and gents on the Belleville block, so let’s talk a little about the ensemble before I ramble on about the leading men! Generally, I think the newer cast members in smaller parts need a bit more time to grow into their roles, which I have no doubt they will do over the coming months. Thomas Goodridge is a wonderful officer ( his ‘LOVE muffin’ cracked me up), but I felt he is still finding his spark as Barry- it’s all there, he’ll tap into it eventually! I suppose my biggest bugbear was the fact that Ben Jennings is no longer playing Joey. I’m hopelessly biased (Ben was my first Frankie Valli) but I really missed him and find it incredibly sad that he’s now a Swing. Matt Thorpe, who plays Joey now, wasn’t as funny to me in his interactions with Bob and Tommy as Ben was, but as I say, Matt will grow into the part.
Sean Mulligan was a highlight as Bob Crewe, wonderfully camp and funny- I particularly enjoyed the ‘young man’ episode with Bob Gaudio. I also really enjoyed Graham Vick as Gyp DeCarlo and Emma Stephens as Lorraine- their performances resonated with me more than my previous casts. Nicola Brazil continues as Mary Delgado, and her ‘Y is a bullshit letter’ still remains
one of my favourite moments of the entire show!
Michael Watson was our Frankie Valli for the afternoon, and he now shares the title of ‘Kerrie’s favourite Frankie’ with the aforementioned Ben. What I loved most about Michael’s performance was the fact that he seemed to understand Frankie’s development throughout the show- he grows from naïve teenager into a star and a father and Michael’s voice seem to grow and mature just as Frankie’s does. He’s wonderfully expressive and interesting to watch, I loved his ‘quieter’ moments like when he’s with Mary and they’re both worrying about Francine just as much as his showman moments when belting out the tunes, his voice has a lovely warm tone to it and was a sheer pleasure to listen to from start to finish.
Jon Boydon continues as Tommy and Edd Post as my Bob Gaudio, and I can’t think of anything else to say other than I love them both to pieces. They bring something new each time I see them, and it can be something as simple as the way they deliver a line or a subtle change in facial expression or body language and are always brilliant vocally. Two highlights were actually interactions they had with each other in the scene where they end up on toilets in a jail cell and the ‘sit down’ to resolve Tommy’s debt: the way Edd asked: ‘with what, Tommy?’ in response to Tommy’s anger and Jon’s face in that moment gave me shivers!
Without doubt though, the one to watch in this new cast and my personal favourite of the day is Matt Nalton, who I thought was incredible as Nick Massi; I found it hard to believe Jersey Boys is his West End debut! I spoke the first time I saw the show about how Nick is essentially the ‘quiet one’ in the band, he may not speak much but when he does it’s always profound and memorable. Matt brings a grit and force to Nick that I adored; his ‘Ten Years!’ rant was easily the best I’ve seen; Matt’s delivery made me jump a little because I purely wasn’t expecting the volume or the ferocity with which it came out, like Michael’s Frankie I felt Matt really understood that these guys go on a journey and grow as the show goes on: I got really teary when he left, but was also giggling at how dry and witty his Nick could be: ‘read a bible, improve your mind’ , the ‘car keys’ scene with Bob and he and Tommy watching Bob ‘perform’ during December 1963 (Oh What A Night) left a huge smile on my face!
As I’ve said before I felt these four had a really special vibe; I actually started crying when they came together on Cry For Me and was just thinking: ‘this here, this is special; these guys fit, the show is in the right place with the Piccaddily.’
By now, I think Jersey Boys has replaced Les Mis as my favourite show on the West End. I get to the interval and want it all to start again, at the end I’m like: ‘we are going again when?’ and it gives me a sense of joy that no other show has… I still smile days later and can listen to the Broadway Cast Recording on loop without getting sick of the tunes in the slightest! My thanks to Matt, Edd & Jon for their time afterwards, it’s a pleasure and I’ll be back asap! 😀