What to expect from Jersey Boys as they work their way back to Sunderland Empire
It's the show for all seasons that's so perennially popular it's working its way back to Wearside for the third time in almost as many years.
Jersey Boys, the true-life tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rocky road to fame, has certainly struck a chord with theatre-goers who often sell out its runs across the country.
Stepping into the winkle pickers of Nick Massi for a second time, after playing the role in the first UK and Ireland tour, is Lewis Griffiths.
He was last at Sunderland Empire as hip-swivelling Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing, but says it’s great to be ditching the strenuous water lifts for the finger-clicks of the Four Seasons.
Ahead of the show’s return to the Empire later this month, he said: “It’s been a lot easier to slip back into the role than I anticipated. Dirty Dancing is a much more physical role and at the beginning of that tour I sustained an injury that stayed with me for the duration.
“So to be in Jersey Boys and be one of four leading men, and not carrying the burden of being the lead man, has given my injury time to heal.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back to Sunderland, for more reasons than one actually. My girlfriend lives in Newcastle, so I’ve become like an adopted North Easterner.
“The Empire is also a beautiful theatre to play and the show always gets a great response there.”
Fans of the show can expect the whirlwind of hits, including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, My Eyes Adored You, Working My Way, Who Loves You and more, which are woven together with a gritty back story of the boys from the wrong side of the New Jersey tracks.
But Lewis says there’s a new chemistry on stage.
“This is the same production as the West End, but there’s a new chemistry and dynamic with the new cast and crew,” he explained. “You have a whole new camaraderie. The banter is unreal on this tour, that’s not to say it wasn’t brilliant last time on the first UK tour, but it’s different.
“As clichéd as it sounds, the guys and girls on this tour have become like a family and that’s necessary for the show, you need that dynamic.”
It’s a closeness needed to portray the troubles faced by the band, issues which have resonated beyond the usual musical theatre crowd.
Lewis said: “We’re in Hull at the moment and I went to Tesco for some lunch. A guy stopped me, he wasn’t your average theatre-goer, and a lot of the men that go to Jersey Boys aren’t. He said he’d only gone to the show for the music and hadn’t anticipated to love the story so much.
“It’s not like a jukebox musical, it’s very much a play with music intertwined, it tells the story of the band’s rise to fame and how that all fell apart.”
Commenting on the strength of the story, he said: “It’s proved incredibly popular, we never do a run of less than two weeks and it sells out, I think that’s because the story is so relatable. I think if you removed all the music from the show, and had no performance numbers, the story would endure. But the fact that you also have this amazing back catalogue of songs makes it a great show.”
Alongside Lewis, bringing to life the back story of one of the most successful bands in history who sold 175 million records before they were 30, is Michael Watson as Frankie Valli, Simon Bailey as Tommy De Vito and Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio, who have also played their roles in previous productions.
Nick is the band member famed for his deep, rich voice, a tone which comes naturally to Lewis.
“People ask me if I put it on, but it’s just my voice and for some reason it comes out even deeper when I do an American accent,” he said. “People say Nick was the strong, silent type, but that when he spoke he had this authoritative resonance. Nick is the only one of the four not around any more, but stories from the wise guys who knew him say he was full of fun and always smiling and I want to be honest and genuine to his memory.”
Co-stars Michael and Simon both appeared in the West End version which first opened in London at the Prince Edward Theatre in March 2008 and moved to the Piccadilly Theatre in March 2014. The Olivier Award-winning West End production closed in March 2017 following nine years in London – meaning the tour is the only way to see the lads in action.
•Jersey Boys is at Sunderland Empire from from March 20-31. Tickets from 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland