There’s a big shadow looming over New Jersey Nights, a touring show featuring the hits of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and that shadow has four Tonys and an Olivier Award to its name. But if you take yourself down to the Congress in the next few days thinking you’re going to get another Jersey Boys, think again as rather than being a musical biog, New Jersey Nights is much more of a straight concert with a bit of banter in between the hits.
Nothing wrong with that, although there are some niggling things wrong with this show which add up to quite a big problem.
The evening kicks off in a bar that looks more Calais than New Jersey, with three female and three male dancers high kicking as the Seasons do their stuff next to them or on a raised platform which also houses the live four piece band.
It’s a little disconcerting that when the boys speak it’s not in a New Jersey drawl but in a variety of British accents. But that’s bearable and soon ceases to sound strange. Vocally, there’s a nice variety of tones, with Damion Scarcella being the stand out, easily able to hit the high notes and easy on the eye too, while Ricki Rojas provides the low, strong base of the group with his rich, fruity voice.
Simon Schofield is more musical theatre than 60’s pop but squeaks through, although Jon Hawkins misses too many important solo notes. In harmony though, they’re perfect, especially when singing Blue Moon and Silence is Golden a cappella.
In between songs we’re fed snippets of the history of the band, exhorted to kiss our neighbour, and are treated to a carefully choreographed bit of ‘fluffing’ which the audience adored, and the first half is brought to a storming conclusion with the triple whammy of Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man.
It’s all very twinkly, all very glittery, and all slightly cruise shippy, and it came as no shock to read in the programme that most of the cast have recently worked the seas. This isn’t inherently bad, of course, but when the production values are also a bit shonky, it doesn’t bode well.
Director/choreographer Emma Rogers‘ decision to include the backing dancers is a mystery as they look cheap and clutter up the place: she should have had more faith in her leads to be able to fill the stage. There’s also a cringe-inducing moment when the girls do a couple of Phil Spector songs and mime. That’s just unacceptable in a ‘live’ show such as this. They also wear some of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen on a professional stage.
The real problem with this production is it’s lack of class in all but the four leads. They’re small things, but they add up: the gold curtain that doesn’t quite reach the floor, the steps that look like they need a paint, the platform plastered with gold paper that hasn’t gone on properly and has puckered. And it’s a real pity. It almost feels like there are two shows going on: the smart one with the boys in their natty blazers and with their lovely harmonies, and the not so smart one with the sub-standard set and below-par dancers.
That said, the Congress audience were on their feet at the end, singing and swaying like they couldn’t get enough. And it’s difficult, despite all its faults, to not enjoy this show, simply because the music of Bob Gaudio is so wonderful and uplifting. Just don’t go expecting anything like as slick a show as Jersey Nights and I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic night of classic pop.
WHAT: New Jersey Nights
WHERE: Congress Theatre, Eastbourne
WHEN: Until August 31, 7.30pm, Thurs & Sat mats 2.30pm
TICKETS: £14.50 – £26.50
MORE INFO: here
RUNNING TIME: Two hours including 20 min interval
WOULD I GO AGAIN: Yep, for the music