Encore Theatre Company
October 21st, 2022
Oh! What a Night!
Encore Theatre Company’s October production of Jersey Boys serves as a reminder of the excellence that Encore have brought to our community for over 15 years. The turbulent tale of these four Italian boys from New Jersey, as they struggle to find their collective voice and rise above the streets where they made their humble beginnings; feels strikingly pertinent to Encore Theatre Company’s trajectory to success in Launceston. Every theatre company’s humble origins begin with uncertainty and trepidation, unclear about the possibility of their sustained success; but when a company is lucky enough to have clever and talented individuals involved, their longevity is assured. With Jersey Boys, Encore once again proves that they are the pinnacle of musical theatre in Launceston, and they have unmistakably found their collective voice.
Frankie Valli, one of music’s most iconic voices, and the meteoric rise of the Four Seasons is cleverly chronicled in Jersey Boys; with a narrative structure slightly different to that of the traditional jukebox musical. The story is told as four monologues, fit into a framework of “The Four Seasons,” (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter), with each “Jersey Boys” narration guiding us through each season’s relative developments. Tommy Devito begins in spring, as we learn about the early days and the discovery of Frankie Valli before Bob Gaudio picks it up and takes us through the summer at the height of their success. During the fall, Nick Massi shares the real story; recounting the downfall of the group, before Frankie Valli concludes the story in Winter, with solace and consequence. This narrative structure established a furious pace that symbolized the momentum of their career trajectory in the 1960’s.
Featuring the iconic songs of The Four Seasons, such as “Oh What A Night’, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Sherry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” you want the cast to live up to the expectations you have for the music, and once again Encore and Director Belinda King have brought together an excellent cast.
Matt Gower has the coveted role of Frankie Valli, and his performance is truly extraordinary. Frankie’s iconic voice is replicated to near perfection by Gower which alone feels like a tiring feat. He has the most numbers to sing in the show and to maintain a personally unnatural vocal the whole performance, as well as depicting Frankie’s warm and sympathetic demeanour with an assertive accountability, Gower is fantastic. Like Frankie, he puts the show on his shoulders and ensures that he does everything to make it a success.
The other three members of the Four Seasons are just as sensational. Aaron Beck’s Bob Gaudio, while supposedly the youngest of the “Boys,” produces one of the more mature performances. His outstanding vocals in “Cry for Me”, the song that introduces himself to the band; does just that. This song draws us in and holds our attention, which aids the transition into Bob’s narrative sequence wonderfully, as we are already eating out of the palm of Beck’s hand. Executed with vulnerability and generosity, Bob perfectly parallels Frankie’s character, and both juxtapose Tommy, which highlights the power struggles within the group. Deklan Haas as Tommy Devito had conceivably the largest character arc to tackle, beginning the show as the likeable front man, before evolving into a young man, crippled by the weight of celebrity and addiction, that led to the downfall of their success. Like the solid roots of a tree, he was the one who planted the seed and watched the show grow around him, maintaining his performance, securely rooted in reality.
Conall Cassidy as Nick Massi rounded out the group, assuring the band was not complete without a “Ringo Starr”-esque comedic larrikin. I’m not entirely sure why the Bass voice in boy bands seem to be stereotypically categorized as the “goofball”, but while Cassidy has us laughing, he also details the serious side of the group’s fallout with Tommy, which is performed with such understated potency, we believe every word.
Supported by a standout ensemble cast including Marina Lee as Frankie Valli’s fiery wife, Mary Delgado, Ross Marsden as mobster Gyp DeCarlo, and Nick Paine as record producer Bob Crewe; they along with other smaller players, combined many flamboyant and extravagant characters into the staging to bring hilarious moments of comedy and fun to an already engaging show.
A technical treat, Encore’s continued collaboration and partnership with Melbourne’s CLOC Musical Theatre, guarantees Launceston audiences are treated to professional standard production values. Jersey Boys is no exception, as the Princess Theatre stage is filled with superb projected images provided by CLOC, that impeccably succeeds at keeping the scene’s moving at pace. The narrative, along with this fabulous AV composition, constructs an inclination that leans toward the watching of a television biopic rather than a theatre show. What felt like a constantly spinning revolve, set at the back of the stage, made scene transitions smoothly change without fuss which led to seemingly zero complete blackouts throughout.
Credit must also go to Andy Prideaux and Sian Parry as co musical directors, who helped a strong cast of singers blend exquisitely together; with harmonies, especially between the four leads, that were some of the best I’d heard in an Encore show. Jaquelyne France-Marsden’s Choreography was understated and not too flashy, falling into the 60’s era with ease.
My one criticism is that while Jason Boviard’s lighting design was elaborate, it did feel at times that the show was over lit. Having such extensive AV projection, there were moments when actors were lost upstage behind a wall of light that obscured the screens and the scene. Due to the nature of the projections, lighting had to come from slightly different angles, and it at times resulted in washing out the stage extensively.
Jersey Boys was one more Encore production of the highest quality. One more that re affirms why actors, creatives and audience alike want to climb the pinnacle with Encore, to be a part of a “mainland” quality show, without leaving the comfort of their own home. We are blessed to have these opportunities on our doorstep.
Review By Matt Taylor