It is to my eternal shame that until this past weekend, I had never been to a theatre to see a musical.
In actual fact, visits to a theatre to see any kind of performance have been few and far between. My excuse is that there isn’t much leg room in some of these old venues, and trying to watch a live show when you’ve got cramp is no fun at all—I’ve tried massaging some life back into my legs, whilst keeping tight hold of my bag of Revels, and trying not to disturb the people sitting near me… and I’m sorry, but it’s just not possible.
Obviously the real reason has more to do with an enduring lack of culture than lower limb length, but my musical duck was well and truly broken on Saturday with a trip to Sunderland to watch the matinée performance of Jersey Boys.
The day had started well with Elaine managing to find a prime parking space just a short walk from the Empire Theatre, although the walk took slightly longer than expected after we strolled off in entirely the wrong direction.
We weren’t too sure what to do for lunch, and eventually decided to “play safe” with a well-known establishment that may have a reasonable reputation for its coffee, but sadly the same can’t be said for its hot food. The sausages in Elaine’s sandwich resembled the thin wizened fingers of an elderly woman… with arthritis; and my “Croque Monsieur” was, for want of a better French word, “merde”.
We arrived at the Empire about forty minutes before the scheduled start of the performance. Time for a quick drink… schoolboy error no.2: two lime and lemonades cost £6.60. You can get a coffee and a shit sandwich for less…
I had actually been to the Sunderland Empire once before—probably sometime in the late 1980s—to see a pantomime. I think it might have been Jack and the Beanstalk, but I’m absolutely certain that it “starred” The Krankies, the comedy equivalent of the sandwich I’d just half eaten.
Back in 2015, we found our seats… right at the end of the third row from the front, with nothing but carpet in front of seat no.C1. Marvellous!
So what of Jersey Boys…?
I have to say it was superb.
The cast was relatively small (in number as opposed to size), and several played multiple parts, but the whole production—costume and scenery changes included—ran like a well-oiled machine. Obviously the show is built around the story and the music of the original Four Seasons, and the four men who played Messrs Valli, DeVito, Gaudio and Massi were fantastic. Each took their turn in narrating the story and the script contained a good amount of well-delivered humour, but their singing…
Their singing was just outstanding.
I really enjoyed the rich bass vocals of Lewis Griffiths (Massi), but Michael Pickering, who portrayed Valli has a remarkable voice… great range, and real power in his falsetto. What really surprised me was that Michael was the “alternate” Valli… only appearing in certain performances… the other bloke must be something really special!
Pickering hails from Sunderland, so presumably it must have been a thrill to appear on stage in his home city. Maybe he had family and friends in the audience, but whatever the case, the ovation he received for one particular song (and apologies I can’t remember which one it was) seemed like it was never going to end, and for a moment the young man looked genuinely moved by the crowd’s reaction.
For me, the best songs were from the early part of the group’s career: “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man” and my personal favouritel “Rag Doll”. The harmonies that complemented Valli’s (Pickering’s) falsetto lead were note perfect and created an overall sound that was actually quite moving at times.
The second part included some songs I knew, but hadn’t realised they were by The Four Seasons, and I really liked the way that each character addressed the audience after the group had been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and there was an unexpected tinge of sadness when it was revealed that Nick Massi had died in 2000 (for the record the remaining three members of the original line-up are all still alive; their ages ranging from 72 (Gaudio) to 87 (DeVito)).
At the end of the performance, the standing ovation was as predictable as it was thoroughly deserved and thanks to being cramp-free, I was able to get to my feet and join in. It really was a memorable afternoon, and something I know I’ll remember for a long time… thankfully for considerably longer than the mustard from that Croque bloody Monsieur repeated on me!
Elaine gave Jersey Boys 10/10… I initially felt compelled to deduct half a point for the price of the lime and lemonade, but as that was hardly the fault of the performers, it’s full marks from me too. Would I go and see another musical? Possibly. Would I go and see Jersey Boys again? Absolutely….
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest