“From the prologue to the epilogue the atmosphere is quite electric.”
Most of us live in the real universe most of the time. For over thirty years now, Quentin Tarantino has led us intermittently into the ‘realer than real’ universe. There are similarities, and connections to real-life sources but everything is “more”. Exaggerated, graphic, stylised, violent. The unreal becomes reality, and vice versa. Most of us have dipped – or dived – into (at varying depths) the Tarantino Cinematic Universe and emerged with the soundtrack still swimming around our heads. The films make us listen to the music in a different way. “Tarantino Live” takes the songs and brings them to life once more in a stunning, genre-defying, mash-up, immersive rock musical.
Woven into this bold, full-throated rock concert is the iconic Tarantino dialogue. It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether you’re a die-hard fan, or completely unfamiliar with the films; what unfolds before your eyes, and ears, will make you look at theatre in a different way. Most of the music stems from the era of vinyl but the structure of the show is built around the modern concept of the playlist. Split into chapters rather than scenes there is no chronological logic. The points of view, close ups, wide angles, jump cuts and crossfades are scattered around the studio like gunfire. The action takes place on the stage as well as around us and amongst us. It is relentless but we can’t get enough.
It’s full title, “Tarantino Live: Fox Force Five & The Tyranny of Evil Men”, loosely sums up the concept. The ‘Fox Force Five’ comprise a group of superwomen made up of five of Tarantino’s most iconic female characters as they take on the ‘Tyranny of Evil Men’ in a battle of revenge. The concept gets swept aside, however, by the sheer power and skill of the vocal performances. To single anyone out would be merely to reel off the entire cast list, just as to attempt to match the actors with the characters would be like trying to follow a chaotic medley of accelerated rolling credits. It is possible, but my word count advises against it. Needless to say, the talent on display is so much more than a triple threat. The lines between orchestra and cast, lead and ensemble, actor, singer, dancer, musician are blurred.
The disciplines are brought together seamlessly, the show having evolved over the last decade. ‘For The Record’, led by adapter and director Anderson Davis with associate director and choreographer Sumie Maeda, launched the show at The Bourbon Room, a small bar on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles in 2010. Immediately a ‘must see’ cabaret show, it was awarded the seal of approval from Tarantino himself, and along the way has been adapted in response to each new addition to Tarantino’s canon of work.
From the prologue to the epilogue the atmosphere is quite electric. It is simultaneously like a roller coaster ride but also not. It’s not Hollywood, nor film, nor musical theatre, nor rock gig. Yet it is all of those. It throws in the air different scenes from different movies, but when they land there is a kind of beginning and middle and end. But even if it doesn’t make sense – from the prologue to the epilogue we are transfixed. Motionless while our heads spin. And we could go on the journey again and again. It is a must, whether you’re a Tarantino geek or if you’ve never seen a Tarantino film in your life. At least you’ll be familiar with the (thirty-plus) classic songs. But not in this context.
Unlike anything you’ll come across in London at the moment, “Tarantino Live” is, in a nutshell, theatre with attitude.
“There is a welcomed playfulness to the production”
Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical chronicling the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, first debuted on the West End in 2008 before closing nine years later. Its revival at the newly renovated Trafalgar Theatre marks the show’s exciting return to the stage, made even more poignant after the original opening night was further postponed due to Covid-19 concerns.
The show opens with the chart-topping French cover of Oh What a Night (Ces Soirées-La) to demonstrate the band’s incredible international appeal. Certainly, this should come as no surprise, seeing as the band has sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide and survived the so-called British Invasion.
The story of the quartet’s rise and fall is told from the perspective of all four band members, the different seasons (Fall, Winter etc.) flashing on a screen above the stage to demonstrate this perspective shift. Though such a format presented a more ‘well-rounded’ story of the group’s success, this did have a significant effect on the musical’s pacing with some scenes forgotten as quickly as they started.
This also led to some rather jarring tonal changes. The strangest perhaps was found at the end of the production where in the space of five minutes the audience mourns the death of Frankie’s daughter before jumping forward a decade to the band’s joyous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There is, simply put, too much history and character development to pack in to the two-and-a-half-hour show.
An impressive number of songs feature in the production but again we are unable to rest on any one scene for too long. The opening scenes are particularly fast-paced and almost discombobulating as we are shown the formation of the group. There is no concrete sense of how much time has passed between any given scene, and the occasional time stamp on the large screen would have been a helpful signpost for the audience.
The cast is phenomenal. The New Jersey accents are well executed though very occasionally border on comical especially when we are reminded of the group’s mob connections. Ben Joyce (making his West End debut) does an excellent job of delivering Valli’s iconic falsetto. His performance of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is particularly beautiful and Joyce was visibly moved at the audience’s ecstatic response to his rendition.
Adam Bailey and Karl James Wilson (playing singers Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi respectively) are incredibly likeable and Benjamin Yates infuses the band’s ringleader Tommy De Vito with a braggadocious energy. The concluding speeches for each band member really allow the cast to come into their own and one cannot help feeling emotional as they update the audience on their lives in the present day.
There is a welcomed playfulness to the production. A particularly amusing moment occurs when Gaudio is implored to “play the f***ing song” in reference to Can’t Take My Eyes Off You which at half-way through the second half was still yet to be played. This outburst generated raucous laugh from the audience who surely felt as though the show was articulating how they were feeling about hearing the iconic tune.
The choreography (Sergio Trujillo) is fantastic. The quartet and the various backing dancers are all perfectly synced with Joyce demonstrating some particularly impressive moves. Though not necessarily true to life, this did add a great pizazz to the performances of the more upbeat songs.
The sets (Klara Zieglerova) were relatively simple with props used more often than backdrops to convey a certain location. Some particularly impressive staging came in the form of the band performing as if on television. Facing a prop camera to the side of the stage, the front view shot of the band performing played on the screen above the stage, interspersed with presumably real clips of crowds at Four Season performances.
You would be hard-pressed not to enjoy this revival of the Jersey Boys. Though the production would benefit for slower pacing at some points, there is no shortage of excellent music, engaging story, and supremely talented cast.