There’s a smash hit West End show called Jersey Boys that tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons so I, like a lot of people who went to Milton Keynes Theatre tonight, mistakenly believed that New Jersey Nights was the touring version of the critically and commercially acclaimed award-winning musical.
We were wrong. Perhaps I should have been more suspicious when the producers were less than forthcoming about the production. But I don’t know why they were being so coy. They’ve got a great little show to be proud of.
This is a completely fresh production that is an affectionate tribute to the American singers – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The four leads – Jon Hawkins, Duncan Heather, Ricky Rojas and Damion Scarcella – have tremendous voices and their tightly choreographed dance moves are as sharp as their ‘60s inspired suits.
New Jersey Nights is a great pick-me-up after the Christmas lull and was well received by the first night audience who clapped and sang along with a packed playlist of the group’s iconic songs.
There were a few things that didn’t add up – literally. By my reckoning there was, in the original line-up, the lead singer (Valli) and four backing singers. The stage show only features four men – didn’t the budget stretch to a Valli character?
And, while the group cut some great shapes on the dance floor, the same couldn’t be said of their backing dancers who looked all over the place.
The highlight for me came in the second act when the guys performed acapella versions of Silence Is Golden and Blue Moon and even a slight hiccup with the second song, when Heather lost his key, didn’t fail to dampen the show’s upbeat atmosphere.
All four men are handsome and charismatic but I would have liked them to remain in character. The Four Seasons were Americans through and through so it’s very disconcerting when one has, gosh, a terribly British cut glass accent and the rest English regional.
By the end of the evening we’d sung our way through Sherry, Oh What A Night, Stay, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Grease plus 27 other hit tunes. We were content and went home humming our favourites.
New Jersey Nights isn’t just for Four Seasons’ fans. It is a nostalgic reminder at just how great a musical heritage came from the USA. In Britain we had a fantastic “Swinging Sixties” with all the groups that it spawned; then we had a fresh set of names in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Valli started in the 1950s and is not only still churning out hits but also acting, appearing in the mob TV show, The Sopranos. Not many can boast a career like that.