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24 January 2018 11:55 (South Africa)
South Africa

Bye Bye Baby: More tribute than fan-fare

  • Lesley Stones
    Lesley Stones
  • South Africa

UK import, “Bye Bye Baby”, while celebrating the music of American rock band, The Four Seasons, is a formulaic, low-key tribute show rather than spectacular musical. By LESLEY STONES.

Do you remember Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons?

No, me neither, we’re all far too young for that.

But you might remember “Jersey Boys”, the brilliant musical that played here in 2013. It was a slick and compelling story of the famous band with emotional highs and lows and a plot as strong as the songs themselves.

Now we’ve got “Bye Bye Baby” which leaps straight into the far easier format of a tribute show. Songs, songs, a touch of dancing, more songs and a little bit of narrative to string it all together.

The Four Seasons - Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi - sold 175 million records and were hit by the too-much too-soon effects of fame. Their music remains timeless and wonderful, with classics like Sherry, Walk like a Man, Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes off You.

Jersey Boys” was a gritty drama with a local cast including the fabulous falsetto-voiced Grant Almirall as Valli, complete with a 10-piece band and excellent sets. “Bye Bye Baby” is a UK import with a British cast, a four-piece band, and no set except a change of jackets and projections of album sleeve covers. Spectacular it isn’t.

It seems quite an audacious move by its creator and musical director Marc Ryzer to believe there’s a place for another Four Seasons show when “Jersey Boys” has been a crowd-pleaser since 2005. But it’s obviously working, since Joburg Theatre has booked it for a two-week run.

Whether audiences will rouse themselves to go is another question. If you like the music then it’s not a bad night out, because the vocal performances are excellent. The four singers create some lovely harmonies and manage to inject some character into their roles even though they don’t get much chance to talk.

Jamie Ledwith as Valli hits all the right notes. Daniel Goddard as Nick Massi is brilliant at the booming bass notes, and Tim Kay as Tommy DeVito is suitably slick and stylish.

Mitchell Rutter as Bob Gaudio is fine when he sings, but he isn’t to be trusted with a speaking part. Although the cast recovered well when he tried to introduce a song they’d already covered. There aren’t many words to remember, so it shouldn’t have been that hard.

Rutter seems to be a late replacement for another singer who was billed in the pre-publicity blurb, so perhaps he hasn’t had time to learn the part yet. He looked out of place from the start, more like a bouncer than a singer, but hopefully he’ll learn his lines and settle in.

The scant patter between the songs mostly works, but it feels terribly abrupt and entirely out of place when the Valli character suddenly mentions his dead stepdaughter. If you’re going to do the story then do it properly or leave it alone. Me, I vote for the do it properly version every time, not this superficial fluff.

Of course I’m comparing the two shows - it’s about the same band, the same history and the same songs, but two utterly different versions. In Jersey Boys, there were many goose bump moments created when the poignant plot led into a familiar song. Here it’s just whitewashed into a happy-clappy sing-along.

Choreographer Scott Jenkins hasn’t given them too much to do, a gentle sway and a finger click here or there, but that’s in keeping with the style of the times.

The verdict from my friend was rather unexpected. “It’s very disconcerting that all their crotches are at eye level. There’s stuff going on there that you don’t want to see,” she said.

I couldn’t help but ask if they were pleased to see her. DM

Bye Bye Baby” runs at Joburg Theatre until February 28. Tickets from Tel: 0861 670 670 or from Webtickets.

  • Lesley Stones
    Lesley Stones
  • South Africa

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