The opening night of the tour, a brand new cast and a theatre that they have never visited before – sounds like dangerous ground but, with the Devonshire Park Theatre stage filled to capacity and the lead vocals delivered faultlessly by Duncan Heather (pictured), Charlie Karlsen, Simon Schofield and David Wyatt, what the huge Eastbourne audience get to see is in no danger at all. Even on their very first night together the cast of New Jersey Nights deliver a superbly slick, well rehearsed, and thoroughly entertaining tribute to the incredible music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
This is not Jersey Boys, the long running show that tells the story of Frankie and his band, this is a joyous celebration of the men and the music that influenced a generation and sold over 100 million records worldwide. It’s a concert of their greatest hits, accompanied by five dancers and a three piece band, where million seller after million seller is lapped up by the enthusiastic audience.
The four singers take turns as lead vocalist so we don’t just get one interpretation of Frankie Valli’s distinctive sound but four, slightly different versions, each backed up by the superb harmonies of the other three. There is also a nod towards the other stars of the time with a Phil Spector section, featuring Da Do Ron Ron and Be My Baby – performed by the three female dancers, Bethany Dows, Chloe Gatward and Sarah Owen.
All four vocalists have previously starred in New Jersey Nights, but this is the first time that they have come together in one show. Charlie Karlsen, the youngest of the four, comes with a great pedigree, having performed in New Jersey Nights in America as well as providing backing vocals for the likes of Michael Ball and Allfie Boe, Gary Barlow and Elton John.
Simon Schofield has performed in the UK tour of the show, but started out as a child star in Les Miserables (as Gavroche) and in the West End, at the age of 12, he played the lead in Oliver! at the London Palladium. He particulary shines in the lesser known, but simply amazing Fallen Angel.
David Wyatt was an original cast member in the Reno, Nevada production but has never strayed this side of “the pond” with New Jersey Nights before. His bass lines in the A cappella numbers, like Silence Is Golden, work very well, as do his lead vocals in the numbers that don’t feature the familiar falsetto sound.
Duncan Heather has performed in both the American production of New Jersey Nights as well as the UK tour and, of the four vocalists, has the closest vocal resemblance to Frankie Valli with not just a superb falsetto voice, but also the very nasal New Jersey accent that defined Valli on most of the Four Seasons biggest hits like, Oh What a Night, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, Let’s Hang On and Sherry.
The New Jersey Nights Megamix, that finishes the show, provides the ideal opportunity to get the audience, who have been clapping and singing along throughout the show, to take to their feet and dance – which they are more than happy to do, having enjoyed a fantastic tribute to a truly legendary band.
**** Four Stars