Tim Drieson stars as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys
TIM Driesen has now stopped the show twice. The first time, he had just finished a spine-tingling rendition of Walk Like A Man, the second, an explosive delivery of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
I’m watching Jersey Boys in Manchester, and the audience are loving every minute of it. Fast forward to the present and the Broadway and West End smash hit show is in the Capital for its Scottish premiere - a three-week run at The Playhouse. And the chances are, there could be another show-stopper north of the border, that old Bay City Rollers classic, Bye Bye Baby. Only it’s not a Rollers’ classic, well, not just a Rollers’ classic, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons got there first.
But then, as Jersey Boys unfolds, it’s amazing just how many hits of the last five decades began life performed in Valli’s distinctive falsetto.
“Originally all these songs were done by Frankie and The Four Seasons, but when you watch the show, you find yourself going ‘Oh, that’s familiar’. ‘That rings a bell.’ Then you go ‘Oh my god! I know pretty much 60 per cent of these songs, if not more,’ declares Drie-sen, who plays the legendary Newark-born singer.
“It made me delve a bit deeper into how it was back in the day, before the internet, before music was such a global thing and easily accessible.
“Then songs would be recorded by one artist in America and covered by another in the UK. Today, songs are associated with one artist, then, you were much freer to cover a song,”.
Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their rise to stardom from the wrong side of the tracks.
“At the time, Elvis had gone into the army. There were no big hits, no one style of music getting people excited and then, all of a sudden, The Four Seasons came along, triple-tracking all the vocals, having a lead singing in falsetto - it hadn’t been done before.
“All of a sudden this new sound had come along and people just got so excited about it. And I think that is what this show does as well. The first 20 minutes builds up the fact that these guys have been struggling to get there for ten years... and then Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like A Man, which we call ‘the big three,’ come out of nowhere, exactly as the band did in the 60s.
“People were like ‘Who are these guys? Is it three guys and a girl? Four girls? Four black guys? Who are they?”
Those four people, Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Tommy DeVito, would become one of the most successful bands in pop history, be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and sell 175 million records worldwide - all before they turned 30.
Belgian-born Driesen first donned the mantle of Valli for the Dutch production of the show before being tempted to headline the UK tour.
“When I got the part, I had seen the show eight times, so I was already a big fan. There’s something about it that is just different to any other musical. It’s not a compilation show where they just shove a lot of hits around a weak story, it has a really good story, and one that is true.
“You can’t imagine all these things happening to these guys. If somebody wrote it, you’d say it could never happen, but it actually did.”
Despite rave reviews, perhaps the ultimate accolade for Driesen came from Valli himself, when they met last year.
“I felt like I knew him,” says the 36-year-old. “The professionalism of that man is incredible. At 80 he is still playing 50 shows a year. The biggest compliment he gave me was when he said, ‘I don’t know how you do it. Even in my heyday I could not have done eight shows a week, singing all of those songs.”
When those songs include Beggin’, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got) and Working My Way Back to You, it’s easy to understand why Jersey Boys is now an Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award-winning musical.
“This is my second year in the show and there is no way that I want it to end,” says Driesen, whose last trip to the city found him playing another pop icon.
“Me and pop music go hand in hand,” he laughs. “I did Never Forget at the Playhouse a few years ago. I was the Mark Owen character. But I just love good music, and there are so many good shows out there, although this has to be the ultimate juke box musical, if you can call it tha. Not only do you get all the songs, you get the story behind them too.”
Driesen’s passion for what he does is never far from the surface. He recalls, “I always liked acting and singing, but growing up in Belgium in the 80s, it wasn’t something you could pursue. When I was 17 I saw Phantom of the Opera for the first time and thought, ‘Oh my god! This is overwhelming. I couldn’t believe how a story could be told through music, with a massive set, and amazing costumes. You can’t replicate the feeling of anticipation as you sit in the dark as a show begins. It’s undownloadable...”
Something that is downloadable however, is Driesen’s new solo album, In My Corner.
“It’s still on iTunes,” he laughs, “I’ve always wanted to be a recording artist. That has been the dream and there are cover versions of songs from the show, some I wrote myself, and other covers including Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, which could have been a Four Seasons song. So, if you love the show you can take a bit of Tim home with you.”
One person who already has a copy of the album is his No 1 fan, his mum, who is popping over from Belgium to see the show.
“She asked me, ‘Which city do I have to visit while you are on this tour?’ And I said, ‘If you visit one, it has to be Edinburgh.’ So she is coming here in two weeks and I am taking her to The Witchery,” he smiles.
Chances are that by the time the Jersey Boys are ready to move on in three weeks, Driesen will have added a few more admirers to his fan base.
Jersey Boys, Playhouse, Greenside Place, until 25 October, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £21.90-£63.40, 0844-871 3014