Jersey Boys – Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Sam Ferriday, Matt Corner, Stephen Webb and Lewis Griffiths in JERSEY BOYS UK and Ireland tourImage: Helen Maybanks

Riding on the back of a huge wave that hit Broadway a decade ago and saw massive success in the West End, Jersey Boys may not have the original cast on this current tour, but that hasn’t stopped the magic one bit.

This is no ordinary jukebox musical. There is actually something real and gutsy about this show. Unlike other productions where a storyline is constructed around, and sometimes awkwardly shoe-horned into, musical numbers, Jersey Boys feels truly genuine, and that’s because it was based on the real lives and experiences of The Four Seasons themselves.

The story follows the band from their early beginnings to the highs and lows of stardom. On the way they experience relationship breakdowns, extreme debt, and bereavement; and their loyalty to each other is tested to the limit. The writing is superb, with Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice delivering a brave yet sensitive account of the lives of four guys from New Jersey who made it out of a world of petty crime, prison time, and the power of the mob, to the top of the tree; all the while injecting an ample measure of humour which keeps the foot-tapping show bouncing along.

In order, however, for the show to work it is imperative that the actor playing Frankie Valli is able to sing like Frankie Valli. Let’s face it; it can’t be easy to replicate his falsetto voice, but Matt Corner, who plays him, has it all. Not only does he have the requisite vocal range, coupled with a beautiful tone that, if you close your eyes, really could be Valli himself; Corner also has an on-stage presence that draws you in and makes you believe in him. Tragedy marks moments of Valli’s career and Corner plays these with the perfect amount of gravity and sensitivity.

The other actors and musicians in the show are equally talented. Lewis Griffiths’ deep baritone, as Nick Massi, beautifully matches his strong, silent persona, but when he complains about tiny hotel soaps and explodes after ten years of keeping quiet about a problem he has with towels, his personality really comes to life in a delightful way.

Going to see a musical about some lads from New Jersey, you should definitely expect to hear that distinctive Jersey accent. It is just a small shame that at moments the accent is so strong that it is easy to lose parts of the dialogue and, on the night, a couple of the cast members slipped out of their accents momentarily. Nevertheless, the show is otherwise faultless. The back screen projections, designed by Michael Clark, perfectly frame each scene and add a great deal to the production. The choreography, by Sergio Trujillo, is slick and instantly arresting from the very first scene.

This show has a great number of things going for it: the cast is extremely talented, and the energy they each put into every performance is incredible. Most of the actors play a number of parts, wear no end of wigs – kudos to Charles LaPointe, the Wig Designer who really had his work cut out for him here – and, on the night viewed, one of the female actors was unwell, so Leanne Garretty, Samantha Hull and Amy West did a truly amazing job of sharing all the female parts between them.

Jersey Boys is well worth a visit if you can get your hands on some tickets. It’s not quite five stars material, but it is close, and it’s certainly guaranteed to leave you with one thought at the end of the show – Oh, What a Night!

Four and a half stars

I saw Jersey Boys at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton on 27th January 2016

The Reviews Hub

Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission

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Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Last Night a DJ Saved My LifeImage: Linda Lusardi

There is no doubt that attaching the legendary name of David Hasselhoff to a show will immediately get it off to a good start. There are at least three things that people associate with ‘The Hoff’, and that’s the beach, the early nineties and a really good helping of cheese. There are all of these aplenty in this production, which sees Hasselhoff play a somewhat hedonistic but ageing Ibiza club owner and DJ whose estranged teenage daughter comes to visit from Wales. She finds herself embroiled in the drugs scene in her father’s club, and in a romance with the holiday rep who moonlights as an up-and-coming DJ working for her dad.

It’s a simple enough storyline but is a little contrived. From Jon Conway, the creator of the successful hot musical Boogie Nights, which inspired a flurry of similarly popular Juke Box musicals, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is peppered throughout with hits from the 80s and 90s. Although it could be said that some of the songs are shoehorned rather uncomfortably into the story, this is perhaps done with Conway’s tongue decisively lodged in his cheek. Boogie Nights starred and was co-written by Shane Richie, and although this production lacks his particular version of the cheeky chappy, it is good to see his son stepping up.

Shane Richie Jr, as holiday rep Rik, is not as relaxed an actor as his dad. His performance could even be described as wooden in the show’s early scenes, but his vocal performance is both pleasing and entertaining. As ageing club owner Ross, the equally ageing Hasselhoff was a little stiff at this performance, but physically rather than in terms of his acting. This was perhaps due to a knee injury, but it was a little uncomfortable watching him at times because he looked as if he was in pain. He does, however, deliver the requisite amount of cheese, and the legendary way in which he parodies himself makes many of the scenes delightfully memorable.

Stephanie Webber, who found fame on The Voice, plays Ross’ daughter Penny, who hasn’t seen her father for three years. Her vocals are faultless, and she makes a very good stand-in for Pamela Anderson in a Baywatch scene that doesn’t really fit into the plot but is highly entertaining nonetheless. Kim Tiddy (The Bill, Hollyoaks) is another recognisable face, competing with Penny for Ross’ attention as the DJ’s much younger girlfriend, Mandy.

The real star, however, is not found in any of the recognisable names in the show, but in Tam Ryan who plays Spanish barman Jose. Ryan has the comedy accent, perfect timing and enduring appeal of the similarly hilarious Spanish waiter in Fawlty Towers, but this is no Manuel impression. His character makes the show uproariously entertaining and no doubt leaves audiences wanting to see him again.

More successes of the show are the lighting and audio visual effects, with giant screens showing flashbacks of Knight Rider as the backdrop to a hilarious fight scene, and tweets from delighted audience members, happy to see their selfies projected onto the screen during the interval in what must be said is a brilliant PR move.

It is sad to say, therefore, that the dialogue is about as old at the music, and the storyline is suspended somewhere between a pantomime and an old performance of the Royal Variety Show. Despite all of this, however, the show is both entertaining and gloriously tacky, and by the curtain call the audience is left reflecting on a really fun night.

Three and a half stars

I saw Last Night a DJ Saved My Life at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton on 7th November 2015

The Reviews Hub

Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission

Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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What is noteworthy about Jools Holland is that he seems to relish every minute of performing, and there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is exceptionally good at it. However, one notices pretty soon at a gig with his 15 piece Rhythm & Blues Orchestra that it is clear Holland is not the only consummate talent on stage. Every one of the brass section, which consists of five saxophones, three trombones and three trumpets could easily hold the stage on their own, as is evident when Holland showcases their solo performances, and that’s just for starters. Christopher Holland, the other pianist in the orchestra, gives the former Squeeze musician a run for his money, but Jools is not at all fazed and actually seems genuinely in awe of his talent; but then they are brothers.

The show begins with a high energy number and Holland delivers everything we expect, finding his musical offering matched with an accompanying roar from the delighted crowd. The music parades through blues, swing, boogie-woogie, rock and roll, jazz and gospel numbers and at times the orchestra is like a mighty wall of harmonic sound. You can choose to tune in to the intricacies of the arrangements or the expertise of an individual musician or you can simply drink in the whole effect and be astounded.

Holland’s newest and youngest band-member, his daughter Mabel Ray, has a sweet but unique quality to her voice, which is very fitting for her rendition of “Sweet Bitter Love”. She lacks the confidence of Louise Marshall and Ruby Turner, but she definitely is one to watch, because her raw talent is unmistakable. Resident vocalist, Louise Marshall, and special guest, Rumer, sparkle almost as much as Rumer’s dress. Her rendition of “God Bless the Child” is sultry and smooth and her version of “Accentuate the positive?” is cheeky and fresh. Marc Almond, Holland’s other guest vocalist, virtually capers onto the stage and boy does he still have it. It is at this point that the gig really hots up. He opens with “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” before plunging into an inspiring performance of the Edith Piaf song “If You Love Me, Really Love Me”. Of course it wouldn’t be right without “Tainted Love”, and Holland’s arrangement is simply superb. The audience are on their feet, and so is Holland, and there is a real sense of joy in the room as Almond astounds and delights the happy throng with the realisation that he is no 80s has-been, but an impeccable talent. He runs across the stage with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas and his energy lights up the room.

At this point in the show the sheer fun on stage is infectious. Holland introduces Ruby Turner as “The Boogie-Woogie Queen”, but it doesn’t do her justice. She takes it to another level, giving it everything she has and more. As her honeyed tones reach higher and greater levels the audience is astounded and when she is finished it seems like she has nothing more to give, but two minutes later she is back leading the encore.

As always, this is not simply Jools Holland. Yes, he might be the big name on the front of the programme, but this is a collective. A collective of jaw-droppingly, toe-tappingly, show-stoppingly fine musicians who together urge audiences to ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think’.

Four and a half stars

I saw Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 17th December 2014

The Reviews Hub

Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission

Jessie Ware – Tough Love – Album Review

Jessie_Ware_Tough_Love

There’s one song on Jessie Ware’s new album Tough Love that you really need to listen to. It leads you by the hand to a 1980s pre-teen bedroom with canned echoes of the electronic beats that were lovingly created on those once trendy little Casio keyboards. With the now legendary and completely infectious Bossa Nova rhythm providing the framing for ‘Keep on Lying’, Ware’s beautifully crafted lyric and breathy vocal are, however, nothing like the adolescent drivel that would more commonly accompany that ever-recognisable sound.

Matched with a synthesised drum beat resembling hand-claps and a fresh sounding melody that brings an emotional depth to the relentlessness of the rhythmic feel of the song, this track offers a certain quirkiness to Ware’s second studio album.

Following on from the success of her debut album, Devotion, in 2012, you certainly get the impression that Ware’s fledging confidence has really been able to spread its wings in this new release. Expressively bold, and with a more assured vocal presentation than before, Ware plunges emotional depths with strength and subtlety.

Thematically, all 11 tracks draw from a well of heartache and romantic yearning. A breathy chronicle of love with each song exploring a new chapter, and none of them offering sugar-coating – there is a real substance here.

The title track ‘Tough Love’, with its buoyant high-register vocals and the punchy rhythm that reverberates like the tempo of a heartbeat, reveals from its first few bars that Ware is more than slightly fascinated by the synthetic sound of the 80s. This rendezvous with yesteryear is developed through the album, most notably in ‘Want Your Feeling’ and the haunting, mellow, Sade-esque pop beats of ‘Cruel’.

This is far from a throwback to the 80s, though, as there is a well-hewn fusion of electronica and retro soul with 21st century mainstream pop. The sultry ‘Kind of…Sometimes…Maybe’ is a dreamy electronic mix of digital and R&B; the result of a productive collaboration with modern-soul artist Miguel (Pimentel).

The most capable song on the album is ‘Say You Love Me’ a track co-written by Ed Sheeran; and it shows. The soulful vocal melody in this luxurious ballad showcases Ware’s versatility as it veers from intimate torch song to soaring power ballad, and the gospel choir in the bridge matched with syncopated clapping is wonderfully uplifting.

If there is anything negative to say about this album it is that in some places the production choices seem to swamp, rather than parade, Ware’s vocal talent, and it is a shame there are no acoustic tracks on Tough Love as we were offered on Devotion. Despite this, however, her tenderness and intimacy seem to smoothly shine through and at times her melodious lament is hypnotically seductive.

At its best Tough Love is not tough to love. On ‘Champagne Kisses’ Ware’s fluttery vocal even sits somewhere in-between the brilliance of Enya and Annie Lennox. For a relative newcomer, her brave and heartfelt vulnerability shines incandescently, and it is her confident and sophisticated subtlety, exuding irrepressibly from even the quirkiest songs on the album, which is her main strength.