The big reason why Jersey Boys is a hit, says musical director Ron Melrose, is because it's real. And the songs are pretty cool, too. Make that two big reasons.
Musical director Ron Melrose started working in theatrical arts over 30 years ago, and a decade of his career has been attached to Jersey Boys, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that tells the story of 1960s
pop group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Since its debut in 2004, the jukebox musical has toured the world, winning over London's West End, and entertaining audiences who remember Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy
DeVito and Nick Massi from the "Golden Age" of pop – while making new fans along the way. One of them, Clint Eastwood, has turned Jersey Boys into a movie (coming out in June) starring John Llyod Young, who made his debut as Valli in the original Broadway cast and won a Tony, a Grammy and a Drama Desk award for it.
That Jersey Boys should be such a hit comes as no surprise to Melrose, whose credits include Sinatra at Radio City, Scarlet Pimpernel, Jekyll & Hyde, Perfectly Frank, Marilyn: An American Fable, Cabaret and Annie. It was the human element in the show that piqued his curiosity when he first read the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (a Tony nominee for Peter and the Starcatcher). The streetwise charm of the characters and their inspiring friendship brought a sense of realness to the script, but what attracted him more was that the Four Seasons made music for the man on the street.
“There’s a lovely ‘poetic truth’ to doing a ‘rise and fall’ story about a group called the Four Seasons,” says Melrose, adding that the show is divided into “four seasons” – a unique touch to this musical.
“We enter the story in the Spring, where everything is new and growing. Summer is the height of fame and fortune, the full flourishing of the group’s success. Autumn is the season of loss, as difficulties chip away at the group, and (that) leads to Winter, the season of looking back at what has been lost and trying to make sense of it.”
So, after 10 years of running the show, which of the four characters does Melrose identify with?
“I wish I was Tommy, so I could get away with being a charming rascal. I know I’m not Frankie, because I’ve spent my entire career pushing other people toward centre stage and never wanting to be there myself. I don’t think I’m enigmatic and intriguing enough to be Nick. So I guess I’m Bob – capable musician, not much intrigue – what you see is what you get – and I hope you like me, but I’ll get over it if you don’t.”
The Jersey Boys charm is also its vast collection of pop classics from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The soundtrack features 34 songs from the group's extensive catalogue. This may be the Glee generation, Melrose says, but the Jersey Boys story and Valli's songs are still relevant and relatable.
“People are people, and a good story is a good story. The fact that this is a good story about people who were musical legends in another era is half the battle. The other half is that their music has never gone away. Not only do the original recordings still get a healthy amount of radio play, but new generations keep discovering their songs and putting their own spin on them.”
Case in point, Melrose points out that the Four Seasons disco-era hit December 1963 (Oh What a Night) from 1975 was “re-imagined and became a rap hit in France in 2000”. In fact, Ces Soirées-là, recorded by French-born singer and rapper Yannick, opens the Jersey Boys musical, thus giving it a contemporary edge.
Meanwhile, as the musical director of the show, Melrose adds that keeping the performances fresh for the audience and the production, especially for touring companies, is a task he shares with his associate music director.
“In each company, the person directly responsible for maintaining the quality of the music is the music director, who conducts performances, holds vocal brush-up rehearsals, and teaches the score to new company members," he explains. "He or she is ‘backed up’ by an associate music director, who is regularly one of the keyboard players but is fully qualified to conduct the show. This enables the music director to watch and listen from an audience seat, which brings clarity and perspective to maintaining the quality of the show.”
"Jersey Boys" will run at Istana Budaya, Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur from April 15-27. Tickets from RM200 to RM680 are available through all TicketCharge channels. For details, visit ticketcharge.com.my, or go to facebook.com/jerseyboys.malaysia, or call (03) 92228811. The show is organised by Milestone Production Sdn Bhd, The Star is the gold sponsor, and Red FM is the official radio station.