Feasting for influence

The Dinner Party (Expressions Dance Company)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

May 10 – 18


Premiering to rave reviews in 2015, “The Dinner Party” (former title “The Host”) is a gripping contemporary dance work from Queensland’s award-winning Expressions Dance Company. And in its 2019 reincarnation, the work, which is choreographed by internationally renowned choreographer and former Artistic Director Natalie Weir, has audience members once again absorbed, from the very first frame of its visual aesthetic.

There is an art deco-ish feel to its immediate appeal, with a group of elegantly-dressed guests seated around a table against a sparkling backdrop… like a scene from “The Great Gatsby”, besides the bare feet. It’s just the kind of formality expected for the start of a sophisticated dinner party. Things soon relax as the night progresses, however, even though the power play between the guests is just starting.

Photo by David Kelly featuring L-R Josephine Weirse, Jag Popham, Jake McLarnon, Isabella Hood  & Bernhard Knauer.jpg

Influential young host (Jake McLarnon) is the proceeding’s initial puppet-master, evident from his initial pose upon the table to control seated guests with little but an authoritative click of his fingers. They, however, are having none of it, each set upon enacting their own agendas. And there are agendas aplenty thanks to a younger woman, The Lover (Isabella Hood), having an affair with the host, a socially ambitious but insecure Party Girl (Josephine Weise), The Wannabe (Jag Popham) trying it on with the ladies, the ambitious but charming Rival (Bernhard Knauer) for The Host’s position and the seductive but solitudinous Hostess (Lizzie Vilmanis).

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring L-R Bernhard Knauer and Josephine Weise.jpg

From amidst this complicated relationship web, the reoccurring motifs of jealousy, ambition and attempted control continue through manipulation of movement, including within the Host’s relationship with the Hostess, with the pair joining together as a couple in breaks but at other times conveying the fractured nature of their relationship. And there is some satisfaction to seeing how things transform between then over the show’s hour long experience.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring Jake McLarnon and Lizzie Vilmanis.jpg

As The Host, Jake McLarnon performs in duet with each of the party’s guests, and is excellent in every instance, despite their different nuances and tones. Guest artist Lizzie Vilmanis is captivating as The Hostess, her ballet-based, old-world deportment deflating as her brave-face fades, while, in contrast The Party Girl becomes empowered by her manipulation. It is Jag Popham, however, as The Wannabe, who provides audiences with the show’s most memorable moments when, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, he is folded and flung sharply about the stage in the ultimate act of manipulated manoeuvring, resulting in spontaneous end-of-scene applause.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring Jag Popham.jpg

“The Dinner Party” is contemporary dance at its most dramatic, often hypnotic in the excellence of its execution of its lifts and leaps, whether in solo, duet or otherwise examination of individual character personalities and interlaced relationships. Embedded with some recognisable canonical classic call-backs, its score of recorded music by Southern Cross Soloists also contributes significantly to the spectacle, taking the mood from exuberance to playfulness and through romanticism, defeat and hollow victory.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring Josephine Weise.jpg

Musical motifs assist in characterisation too, staccatoed detachment for the confident and calculating host and regal pomp for the well-to-do Hostess, working with Ben Hughes’ evocative lighting design to underscore tonal changes. And acclaimed Australian fashion designer Gail Sorranda’s costumes are pretty much perfect in their conveyance of character and their changing inter-personal intertwinings. Staging is also simple yet effective; the table that begins centre-stage is moved about the place and into various positions, even facilitating a duet with dancers hanging off its up-ended side.

EDC The Dinner Party Photo by David Kelly featuring dancers Josephiner Weise and Bernhard Knauer.jpg

While Natalie Weir may have moved on from her role as the dance company’s Artistic Director, it is fitting that her legacy be paid tribute in this first mainstage season of 2019 and the artistic feast that is “The Dinner Party”. While it may not have the narrative clarity of last year’s profoundly moving “Everyday Requiem”, this ambiguity and its catalyst for post-show conversations about the illusion of control is all just part of its appeal.

Photos c/o – David Kelly


‘Ella anew

Cinderella (Myths Made Here)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

April 26 – May 5


Myths Made Here’s “Cinderella” is not about princes, princesses or even a step-sibling, but it does feature a lost shoe as result of our protagonist single, late 30s woman Ashleigh’s (Amy Ingram) startle at seeing the approach of an internet date. Ashleigh is certainly not your typical fairy tale heroine; she’s a bit of a klutz, though not in a neurotic Bridget Jones type way, but she has a unique charm. She’s a little insecure, sure, but also organised with band-aids in her purse and tissues up her sleeve… a real-world representation of one guise of a modern woman.


From its initial disaster, the evening of her intended date unfolds, after a stranger (Thomas Larkin) chases her to reunite her with her abandoned footwear. And so, as audience members, we voyeur their night together from first encounter through dinner and afterwards until the couple retreat back to her place for a romantic entanglement. Initially this makes for an unhurried narrative as the ultimately likeable characters navigate the awkward banter of favourite movies and dreaded dream recollections. Through the little looks and slight movements of their hesitations, we laugh both with and at them. Indeed, in this regard, things are not overplayed, but rather realised to their full, uncomfortable potential; while Larkin plays smitten moments to coy perfection, Ingram uses every aspect of physicality to show the anxious insecurity of her character’s second guess of herself and her potential new beau’s motivations.


Playwright Matthew Whittet gives us a very funny but real one act first date in all of its affectionate awkwardness, but also poignancy too as the inevitable midnight comes around. Certainly by showing rather than telling so much of its story, it presents as a story that is intimate and individual, but also universally relevant in its contemporary considerations, for this is Cinderella anew complete with themes of love, loneliness, loss and social anxiety.


The 70-minute romantic comedy is dynamic from start to finish, as is so often the case in Daniel Evans directed works, making clever employment of a revisit soundtrack of pop classics, vibrant lighting and smart use of its boxed stage space. While, as a two-hander, “Cinderella” may be more intimate than Evans’ other works, it is still entertaining and enjoyable, in a quirkily quaint way, with its talented two performers keeping the audience engaged for the duration of their evening’s emotional journey.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

More Minchin

Back (Tim Minchin)

QPAC, Concert Hall

April 9 – 12


Tim Minchin’s new show “Back” begins suddenly with the internationally acclaimed Australian composer and musician appearing almost out of nowhere, spotlit in his seat at the centre-stage piano. A fumble at the beginning of one of his newer songs forces a restart so we get to see his (re)entrance after all. It is actually quite an apt beginning, indicative of the show’s organic, bespoke feel.

The responsible song is the metaphoric and meaningful ‘If This Plane Goes Down’, (“remember me as someone who cared, often, but not always, about his hair, self-righteous when shit wasn’t fair.”) Its sentiment is a theme that appears a number of times throughout the show, such as in the haunting ‘I’ll take lonely tonight’. As the show’s tag line of ‘Old songs, new songs, f*** you songs’ attests, the set list features a lot of retrospective focus, going back even so far as Minchin’s complicated beat poem ‘Mitsubishi Colt’ set to impressive improvised jazzy piano accompaniment.

All numbers of course showcase his penchant for puns and interesting deft phrase rhymes of the Cole Porter sort, only with swearing in their rhyming couplets. It is accurate assumption too that “Back” is polemical in its Ted Talk style touch on controversial issues of religion et al. While he talks of confirmation bias, increased tribalisation and the hypocrisy of assumed religious indemnity, ‘Come Home (Cardinal Pell)’ does not feature. ‘Pope’ and ‘Thank You God’ (“for fixing the cataracts of Sam’s Mum”) do, however, and are as wonderfully jaunty as ever, especially ‘Thank You God’, which features as an early show highlight in its lyrical avalanche of mockery of how prayer might mobilise religious response from an omnipotent ophthalmologist god.

“Back” is a mixed but still balanced bag of a musical experiences and laughs aplenty, full of sharp turns that take us from talk of George Pell to Minchin’s epic rock song opera ode to cheese and then the lovely ‘Leaving L.A.’ ‘Rock N Roll Nerd’ features a marvellous musical reveal that is worth the price of admission alone and things only soar higher from there. The absence of ‘Dark Side’ is disappointing, with encore instead featuring songs from his ill-fated Broadway musical adaptation “Goundhog Day” and also “Matilda”, for which he wrote the music and lyrics.

With an all-star band (including The Whitlams’ Jak Housden) in support, familiar songs like ‘If I Didn’t Have You’ are given a new, and in this case, sexy feel. Minchin himself is as skilled as even on piano, as is showcased in numbers like ‘Prejudice’ and from the opening song his voice is a smooth as ever in that ‘White Wine in the Sun’ sort of sentimental way, making us especially thankful for the Concert Hall’s impressive acoustics. Ever-talented, he takes to the guitar too in the closing anti-American anthem ‘Fuck’, another highlight in its hyper-real realisation.

“Back” tickets may set audience members back some decent coin, but they are worth every cent in every regard, even down to detail of lighting which enhances the little moments of songs as much as it awashes the stage with narratively-theme colours. But above everything else, after a seven-year stage absence it is just marvellous to see the multi-talented musical comedy genius touring our stages again. While his talk of his admittedly now rich white man privilege is tongue-in-cheek, there is an honesty too in his reflection about what has brought him home to Australia.

“I’m not saying I’m Jesus” Tim tells us in the lyrics of ‘Woody Allen Jesus’, despite his bare feet, long hair and bearded appearance, but he is a god of musical comedy cabaret and without doubt he is well and truly back. And given that his one sold out Brisbane show immediately morphed into a four night run, it seems audiences are excited by the prospect.

The joy of the show is infectious; for over two high energy hours (without intermission), Minchin is pure entertainer, jumping about the stage, squatting at his piano and posing atop it in his trademark bare feet, yet it feels like the shortest time. Indeed, while each evening may deliver a unique experience, it is sure to be an entertaining one…. Maybe less so for those unknowing audience members who were overhead after-show expressing their surprise at the ‘interesting’ religious focus of his repertoire, but from the standing ovation at show’s end, it seems they are in the minority.

Still so rightly wrong

The Book of Mormon (Anne Garefino, Scott Rudin, Important Musicals and John Frost)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

March 16 – May 31


The New York Times calls it “the best musical of this century” and Entertainment Weekly says it is “the funniest musical of all time.” Understandably the arrival in Brisbane of the outrageous nine-time Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon” has been much hyped, in part due to its clever marketing campaign of reduced-price ticket lotteries and alike, but also due to good old fashioned word-of-mouth. Since seeing it in London five years ago, before “Hamilton” took to the top of the hottest show list and it was still one of the most elusive (and most expensive) tickets around, I have been one of its many ravers, equally abuzz with anticipation as the uninitiated audience members at the gala Brisbane opening night. And while it shows its age a little now, as satire so often does, it is still easy to appreciate how it stands as one of the most successful musicals of all time.

“The Book of Mormon” is the odd couple story of two mismatched young missionaries, Elder Price (Blake Bowden) and Elder Cunningham (Nyk Bielak) who are sent to Africa for the most important time in their Mormon lives … their mission. Naively eager to spread the divine word and help heal the world in a different place they are ill-prepared for the remote Ugandan village that they encounter, with its famine, poverty, disease and dangerous militia.


Initially the villagers aren’t particularly interested in hearing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, until Elder Cunningham starts ‘Making Things Up Again’ to keep them from getting bored by his bible stories, reconceptualising the little he knows of the doctrine with his favourite pieces of science fiction and fantasy. Just as the missionaries begin to feel connected with the people of Uganda, the mission president comes to visit and the truth is revealed in full-throttle hilarity.

The highly offensive musical is the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the creators of the American adult animated sitcom “South Park”. And in keeping with this, the show is utterly audacious in its gratuitous ridicule, pushing the boundaries between satire and stereotype in that “South Park” heyday way. It’s blasphemous, profane and very, very funny in dialogue and musical numbers alike as it makes light of various Mormon beliefs and practices, while ultimately endorsing the positive power of the church’s service. Despite its veneer of crudeness, the uncensored comedy is quite clever, often in its simplicity, down to the details of costumes and choreography, continuing even into the program. Indeed, it is a testament to the truly funny from start-to-finish experience that different versions of the same joke just seem to get funnier, such as each time that Elder Cunningham awkwardly messes up the name of his desired love interest Nabulungi (Tigist Strode).

“The Book of Mormon” is about more than just its shock value. Since its Broadway opening in 2011, it has received not just popular praise but critical acclaim for its plot and score. It is a highly-polished musical of international standard and its first 30 minutes are particularly tight, full of huge energetic numbers, starting with its catchy, upbeat opening sequence number ‘Hello’ in which doorbells chime as young missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints army practicing their spiels on mock doorsteps outside the church’s training centre in Salt Lake City, which sets a light-hearted tone.


The show features a kaleidoscope of memorable musical numbers, often in lampoon of contemporary Broadway styles, such are the layers to its clever story craftedness. “The Lion King” is parodied and referenced, in ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ is the first truly vulgar song in the show which ends with members of the Ugandan community giving the finger to and screaming four-letter words at God. And ‘All American Prophet’ in which Elder Price testifies in a very abridged tribute as to how Joseph Smith came across the golden plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon, has a “Jesus Christ Superstar” feel to its orchestration.

Across soaring power-ballads, tribal singalongs and rock anthems, extravagant sets and choreography contribute to the world class production. Perhaps the musical’s biggest showstopper, ‘Turn It Off’, in which the young missionaries share advice on how to deal with dark thoughts (“Don’t feel those feelings, hold them in instead”) comes completed with a razzle dazzle elaborate tap dance number. And when things seemingly can’t go much further, the surreal ‘Mormon Hell Dream’ sees a super spooky-wooky Satan and his minions of Genghis Khan, Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and Johnny Cochran welcoming a worrying Elder Price to his perceived consequences for leaving his missionary companion all alone.

Direction is always sharp and the performances are all first-class. Bielak is masterful as the childishly exuberant Elder Cunningham, contributing much to the show’s high energy. The very versatile Blake Bowden is every part perfect, plucky Mormon poster boy Elder Price, conveying a presence even in his stature. He carries the show solo in the inspirational ‘I Believe’ proud announcement, when, after re-affirming his faith, he confronts the show’s violent warlord villain General with determination to convert him, belting out the key track with crisp, show-stopping vocals. Also of vocal note is Strode as Nabulungi, especially in her innuendo-filled soft-rock duet with Bielak, ‘Baptise Me’ and also Act Two’s ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ repreise and purely joyous evangelical company number ‘Tomorrow Is a Latter Day’.

“The Book of Mormon” is a difficult show to review because when it comes to praise it has all pretty much been said before. The ridiculously still so-wrong-it’s-right musical will not be to everyone’s tastes; it’s a very adult show and if you don’t like bad language it isn’t one for you. But if you are ready to forget your troubles for an evening and laugh until your face is sore, it’s a book that will change your life (#believethehype).

Monumental Miller

Death of a Salesman (Queensland Theatre)

QPAC, The Playhouse

February 9 – March 2

Rightfully regarded as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, Arthur Miller’s iconic “Death of Salesman” is an unquestionable classic of the theatre, largely due to its enduring resonance, and Queensland Theatre’s production of the mammoth work leaves audiences with little doubt as to why the play remains so beloved, even 70 years (to the week) after it was first performed on Broadway.


“Death of a Salesman” comes with all the ingredients of a great tragedy. Its narrative follows 63-year-old salesman Willy Loman (Peter Kowitz) as he struggles to accept his failures and wrong dreams. In his earlier life he experienced some level of success, but now he is a broken man, both professionally and personally, plagued by memories of missed opportunities. Long gone are the days of his sons Biff (Thomas Larkin) and Happy’s (Jackson McGovern) hero worship and shared sniggers at the book-smart neighbour boy Bernard (Ilai Swindells) and his knowledgeable and successful father Charley (Charles Allen). Instead, Willy’s twilight-years reality has become one of scheming towards redemption, while relying on Charley’s generosity to only-just survive, but never succeed. It is an unforgiving existence in which Willy also refuses to relinquish his dreams for this eldest son, despite Biff’s rejection.


There is a lot of pathos to the story’s exploration of big human-nature themes such as pride, guilt and hope and it is very dialogue-heavy in its apparent exploration of Henry David Thoreau’s succinct observation that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. Arthur Miller’s script has, at its core, a sensitive craftedness infused with imagery, allegory, multi-level titular meaning and the symbolism of planting seeds to thrive as a legacy.


The last time I saw this play it was in a cosy Greenside theatre on Royale Terrace at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was an appropriately intimate experience of a traditional work of realism. While Queensland Theatre have set the story where it should be in the late 1940s time of hats and handkerchiefs as business attire, the realisation is far from one of conventional realism, which works wonders in bleeding Willy’s time into itself.


The story’s time and place setting is seen in props, costumes and character accents that inhabit Set Designer Richard Roberts’ deconstructed doll-house staging. World class production values bring multifaceted flashbacks and reminiscences to realisation, as for Willy the past is alive. The flashbacks not only provide psychological insight into his character, but add interest as Willy retreats into idyllic family memories and the glories of his venture capitalist brother Ben (Kevin Hides).


Verity Hampson’s lighting design takes the audience through transitions of the everyday and into memories in emphasis of the gap between myth and reality. Indeed, perfectly executed lighting transitions transform scenes from sepia-toned of-the-time settings to stylised flashbacks behind multi-use scrim screens. Justin Harrison’s soundscape is also quite superb, whether as subtle suburban street sounds or to signpost the assault of a vivid flashback. Even intermission music is of the era, reflecting the attention to detail that is at the core of this show’s success.


The cast is uniformly excellent as the story’s almost-all flawed characters. The success of any production of “Death of a Salesman” depends ultimately on the portrayal of its lone man protagonist, battling for purpose and recognition and Kowitz is outstanding as the titular merchant, whether full of false pride and delusion, boastfully bravadoing to his boys or submissively stooping towards his mental and emotional decline. It is a slow-burning performance, not pitiful, as it could easily have been, but poignantly honest and therefore emotionally engaging.


But Willy’s is not the only hero’s journey being examined. Larkin brings a layered sensitivity to the challenging role of Biff, a man with his own yearning to overcome his adversity and live on the land in opposition to his father’s expectations that be also become a businessman. However, the most powerful performance is probably that of Angie Milliken as Linda Lomen, Willy’s emotionally-supportive but worn-down wife, trying desperately to at-once understand and help her doomed husband. Her resolute monologue defense of her husband’s character to their children is moving enough to hold the entire absorbed Playhouse Theatre audience in her grasp. Despite such dramatic moments, however, the production is not all dourness as suggested by its title, with some light moments and comedy serving to alleviate sombre scenes.


As the company’s Artistic Director Sam Strong notes in the show’s program notes, “Death of a Salesman” speaks across time to the love and lies at the centre of families. And this character universality is at the core of the success of this production. While there is criticism of American capitalism evident, its currency comes more from its every-man human themes of triumphs and disappointments. It is a long show, as classics often are, but this is because it has so much to say, beyond just its portrait of the promise of ‘the west’ and the Great American Dream that appears in so many of its culture’s literary classics.


Just as Willy believes that success is defined by money and reputation (“the only thing you’ve got in this world is what you can sell,” “be liked and you will never want”, he says), the currency of likeability and stories of self-promotion that form the fabric of his life represent the essence of people’s modern online selves, meaning that in 2019, as much as ever, the play still has much to say about the idea of self-perception. Yet while this theme offers resonance it doesn’t overwhelm the play’s essential story. Jason Klarwein’s direction is one of command, but also restraint, in not trying to force the play to be something it is not. And so, its celebration of the old style magic of theatre makes this monumental first installment in the company’s Season of Dreamers, one to which attention must be paid.

Don’t you know it’s magic?

The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway (QPAC in association with The Works Entertainment)

QPAC, Concert Hall

January 9 – 19


I am theatre traditionalist at heart; I don’t like puppets, audience participation…. or magic, so needless to say, “The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway” is my first (somewhat reluctant) show of its sort. And what a spectacular show I must admit it is. From the moment it begins with The Trickster (Paul Dabek) cheekily pitting two young audience volunteers against each other on stage, it is clear why the franchise is so widely acclaimed (now with tours around the world).


Not only is the show engaging for the young people sitting throughout with mouth open, mind blown expressions and exclamations of ‘what?’ but its captivating theatricality and appealing to adults also. Indeed, it is a great family show with a good balance of adult allusions and child-friendly humour. (As a newbie, what surprised me most was how genuinely funny the show is.)


Dabek is very witty as The Tickster. The award-winning The Mentalist (Chris Cox) is also a dynamic and charming high-energy performer as he reads the minds of audience members, astonishingly revealing obscure, specific details of their everyday lives and histories.


There are many instances of audience participation from ‘volunteers’ of all ages and from across sections of the Concert Hall, not just the ‘business class’ of front row centre, but it is all good-natured and entertaining. These are performers at the pinnacle of their craft, as one would expect from the Direct From Broadway show. And the collective impact of their impressive showmanship is akin to that of a splashy Vegas show, amplified by a thrilling soundtrack (Composer and Musical Director Evan Jolly), punctuated by moments almost out of a Motley Crüe-esque video, complete with smoke machines and scantily-clad women.


The show includes large-scale stunts, levitation, disappearance and daredevilry. And there is a well-balanced mix of acts; there are astonishing numbers of the traditional vaudeville sort alongside more modern magic moments. Double act, The Showman (Mark Kalin) and The Conjuress (Jinger Leigh) perform disappearing/reappearing acts and assistants are cut in half. There are sleight-of-hand card ticks and conjurations from The Manipulator (French-born Florian Sainvet), too, confidently shared courtesy of a large screen positioned above centre stage to show the magic up-close, also while The Alchemist (Leonardo Bruno) floats a rose before our very eyes.


Things become tense in lead in to intermission as the audience holds its collective breath when Australian daredevil Sam Powers (otherwise known as The Enigma), who has joined the Brisbane season, enacts a tribute to Harry Houdini. The can’t look, but can’t look away segment sees him attempting a death defying mid-air straight-jacket escape under a flaming set of steel jaws, ready to be come crashing shut with a half-tonne of brute force.


While numbers ebb and flow through the show’s 2+ hour duration, comparatively Act Two falls a little flat and even though its more sedate numbers are impressive, it would be nice to see it also end with a more memorable bang. Still, in the hands of these masters of magic, the experience of the very best illusion acts from around the world seems to fly by in a flamboyant spectacle of awesome illusions and sharp humour.


Clearly, “The Illusionists: Direct from Broadway” is not only an impressively sharp and highly entertaining show, but a genuinely joyous experience for audience members of all age that illustrates the verity of Voltaire’s claim of illusion being the first of all pleasures. And as for trying to figure out how they are doing it, such contemplations soon give way to resignation that ‘it’s just magic’ to be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Four seasons and a hooray

Jersey Boys (Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby and TEG Dainty)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

January 2 – 20


“Jersey Boys” opens with a modern pop-rap song, ‘Ces soirées-là’. The fact that the French cover of the Four Season’s ‘December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)’ spent 15 weeks as number one is testament to the endurance of the band’s legacy. It is evidenced too by the audience response when the band’s four members Tommy DeVito (Cameron MacDonald), Bob Gaudio (Thomas McGuane), Nick Massi (Glaston Toft) and front man Frankie Valli (Ryan Gonzalez) first appear on stage and by the fact that so many of its audience members are returning to share in the musical’s 2+hour sensational celebration again and again. Indeed, it is a case of third production’s a charm for me, with the latest Australian tour showing that this is a musical experience that certainly stands the test of time.


The internationally acclaimed hit 2005 jukebox musical (music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) tells the true story of the staggeringly successful Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted 1960s American pop band The Four Seasons. The chronological biography is presented in a documentary-style format that dramatises the creation, accomplishments and inevitable decline of the group, with each of the show’s ‘four seasons’ narrated by a different member of the band giving his own perspective on its history and music, with the group’s songs integrated into the narrative (‘You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions’).


The show’s strong structure serves it well from the very first (Spring) story, told by Tommy DeVito, the band’s fast-talking, petty criminal founder. And so it paces along from the very beginning with some absorbing storytelling of the group’s early years as a blue collar band from a tough part of New Jersey, trying to find a name and sound.


When the quartet of mismatched musicians does find its sound and their whole world explodes after two takes on a Sunday afternoon, it is absolutely joyous; ‘Sherry’ truly takes off and when it is followed in close succession by ‘Walk Like a Man’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, there is rapturous mid-show applause. Indeed, under Steve Orich’s orchestrations and Luke Hunter’s musical direction, the iconic upbeat harmonic sounds are all on point.


Performances are also all strong. Gonzalez is perfect as unlikely front-man Frankie and his vocals are astonishing in recreation of Valli’s exceptional four-octave range and astonishing falsetto. This is particularly evident in his final (Winter) segment of the story, and its complex and compelling ‘Bye, Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)’ in response to his strained relationship with daughter Francine (Mia Dabkowski-Chandler) and break-up with his girlfriend Lorraine (Cristian D’Agostino), and does not get better than in match with the astonishing sound of the brassy crescendo of the almost-never-released ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.

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Of particular mention also is MacDonald who is riveting in role as the group’s lead guitarist Tommy DeVito, capturing the character’s confident charisma in conjunction with his all-Jersey attitude and mob-ish hostility. Kiara Zieglerova’s scenic design of industrial scaffolding also invokes the image of urban New Jersey, which juxtaposes with back pop-art image projections and the merge between real life and archival sixties footage of the Ed Sullivan Show sort.


As “Jersey Boys” shows, there is substantial substance beyond the froth and bubble of The Four Seasons’ upbeat pop formulaic musical style. As Act Two takes audiences through the turmoil of the personal sacrifices and group’s decline in response to music industry and mob corruption and mounting financial troubles (‘you sell a hundred million records, see how you handle it’), a strong sense of love and loyalty resounds.


This is an energetic and entertaining production that proves that “Jersey Boys” is still a musical of merit; it is still easy to appreciate how the musical served as such an instant hit, heading straight to Broadway where it played for 11 years, winning four Tony Awards in 2006. And in amongst its heartache and humour, resounds the hooray reminder of the band’s immense musical catalogue, whose harmonies will surely stay with you long after you dance out of the theatre.

Photos c/o – Jeff Busby