Musical ‘Jersey Boys’ wins applause from Chinese audiences with Shanghai debut
Published: Nov 13, 2017 06:08 PM


Promotional material for Jersey Boys Photo: IC

It must have been a unique experience for the Shanghai audience on Thursday night to be the first group of people in the Chinese mainland to enjoy the famous Broadway musical Jersey Boys in the city's Daning Theatre.

As classic songs such as "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "Walk Like A Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" from the renowned band The Four Seasons were sung on the stage, the audience that night, including myself, couldn't help but move our bodies to the beat along with the four actors on the stage.
According to Jersey Boys producer Naomi James, in addition to the 27 classic songs in the musical, the performance is also well known for the stage design and costumes that take audiences back to the US in the 1960s.

At a media event on Saturday, James recalled two of the biggest challenges that the crew faced to bring the musical to China.

The first issue was coordination. As a three-party collaboration, the musical required constant communication among the offices in London, New York and Shanghai.

While coordinating internationally proved difficult, James explained that "the biggest challenge for Selladoor [the production company] was that they were not familiar with Chinese audiences. Audiences are the heart of everything what we do. We need to make sure that we are absolutely serving the Chinese audience."

Nostalgia for yesteryear

While the production company may not know Chinese audiences well, Chinese audiences certainly are familiar with The Four Seasons and their music. One audience member surnamed Zhang, a 39-year-old mother who brought her 15-year-old son to the show, told the Global Times, "I first heard a lot of their songs when I was in college. This show not only reminded me of those old classic songs, but also made me nostalgic for my campus life. Back then, listening to English songs was one of the main ways that Chinese students learned English."

Although many of the band's songs are considered classics in China, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is probably the most well-known song for fans. The song has been adapted into Chinese by dozens of Chinese singers, from A Mei to Yoga Lin to Hua Chenyu, over the years.

While the music was definitely a highlight, many who watched the show were also touched by lead singer Frankie Valli's musical talent and his dedication to his dream.

"He had to go on numerous tours to pay back the debts he made when he offered to help fellow bandmate Tommy [DeVito]. Misfortune never came alone. His daughter died. Yet, Frankie continued his music career despite all this. For me, the show is all about a dream," said 21-year-old Fiona Wu, a Shanghai college student.

Tour of two 'Frankies'

The 2006 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Jersey Boys is narrated by each member of the band in a documentary-style format.

After Shanghai, the musical will also travel to Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, where it will take the stage from December 15 to 24. The musical will then set up shop in the capital from December 30 to January 13, 2018.

According to resident director Caroline BatesoN, actors Luke Street and Jonathan Vickers will take turns playing Valli so as not to sour their throats as the part requires the most singing.