Run, don’t walk, to see the Midtown Men
BY ELIZABETH OGUSS
OF THE MONTCLAIR TIMES
Thursday June 30, 2011,
One sign of a good show is when audiences leave the theater humming.
Four stars from the original cast of “Jersey Boys,” the Tony Award-winning musical about the Four Seasons, are still performing together.
But now they’re the Midtown Men and they’ve branched out: they sing the 1960s.
The Midtown Men — Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard, and J. Robert Spencer — are not affiliated with “Jersey Boys,” but the energy and showmanship they brought to Broadway is now poured into a stage show they’re bringing to Yogi Berra Stadium on July 9 in a family-friendly event with Joe Piscopo as master of ceremonies. Proceeds will benefit the educational programs of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.
“Jersey Boys” was built on the Four Seasons’ distinctive sound. The Midtown Men have taken that sound and “applied it to all the groups and great icons of the 60s,” Hoff said.
The Midtown Men sing it all, or almost all.
“We wanted to pick the most famous memorable iconic songs of the ’60s,” said J. Robert Spencer, who’s known as Bobby, “to put in our act that would allow people to reflect back. … The songs of the 60s are so resonant today,” he said.
Their repertoire includes songs by the Mamas and the Papas, Beach Boys, Neil Sedaka, and the Turtles, among others. Longoria, a tenor who played both Joe Pesci and Frankie Valli on Broadway, still has plenty of opportunities to sing falsetto.
The group has just recorded an album of their own arrangements of classic songs.
“In the studio we go back and forth on what kind of envelope can we push in terms of new energy and new approaches to the music, and still maintain the integrity of these classic songs,” Hoff said. ”We have a hybrid goal: old music with a new twist and new music with an old twist.”
“Christian always says we’re ambassadors to the ’60s music, doing it for real. Not just as a cover band but really taking on these songs as if we were there,” Longoria said. Longoria won’t give his age, but says he’s the baby of the group. The others are in their early 40s.
“How do we do this and do it justice?” Longoria said. ”That’s what our fans enjoy and we enjoy doing that too.”
On stage, the four performers play themselves.
“We’re realizing that we ourselves are the characters and the story is our own,” said Hoff. “We’ve grown as four men in ways that you can only do by going through the fire, by really pursuing … the dream, which for us is to sing and tell our story and make people happy. We’re entertainers,” he said.
“There’s a line in [Jersey Boys] that we live by,” Hoff said. ”You don’t forget where you come from.
“‘Jersey Boys’ transformed our lives, individually and together, and continues to do that,” he said. “The work that we did in the show — four guys come together to … portray characters that were larger than life but full of humanity, and this great story and this great music combining with that real-life stuff — has carried into our own lives.”
Longoria says every Midtown Men show is different.
“You never know what you’re going to get as far as personality on the stage,” he said. ”We have so many stories that come out of the air.
“You know when someone’s going to go on a tangent or you know when to interrupt them,” he said, laughing. ”It’s like a vaudevillian experience.”
Hoff, Spencer, and Longoria all agree that the Midtown Men genuinely enjoy one another’s company. That’s a good thing: in addition to arranging, choreographing, rehearsing, and running the business of being the Midtown Men, they traveled to 46 dates in 2010 and are on track to do 70 or more this year.
“I’m in such a good group of guys,” Spencer said. ”We could be doing anything. We choose to sing together because we know this is the time to do it.”