BWW Reviews: MIDTOWN MEN Bring Musical Memories and Distinctive Harmonies to Providence
The Midtown Men carry a dual musical legacy on their shoulders each and every time they step out into the spotlight. Their success as original cast members in the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys made them rising stars in the musical theater world, while nightly performances of the timeless music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons ingrained a deep fondness and respect for 1960s-era music in each of the men.
Now Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard, and J. Robert Spencer aim to continue singing the great songs of the 1960s on stages across America. As The Midtown Men, the group capitalizes on the tight vocal harmonies and snappy stage rapport that served them so well on Broadway, bringing their audiences an evening of music, entertainment and memories.
The Men take the stage, nattily outfitted in Hugo Boss suits, and quickly win over concert-goers with their own Midtown-style renditions of songs by The Turtles, The Mamas and the Papas, The Rascals, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Monkees, The Beatles and, of course, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (to name only a few). Reichard mentions that the group fell in love with the songs of the 60s during their time in Jersey Boys, and their passion for the music is evident throughout the performance. The four vocalists are clearly having the time of their lives touring as the Midtown Men; their energy and unfeigned enthusiasm shine through in each and every number they sing.
The Midtown Men are, in essence, Jersey Boys "in concert"; the show features some of the biggest hit songs of the 1960s and the quartet shows off stylish choreography, but the emotional hook of The Season's real-life musical journey is absent from the performance. What comes through instead is the close relationship between these four men, who have forged a friendship and an artistic collaboration around the music that so deeply touched each of their lives.
Each of the Men has a turn in the spotlight for featured songs and special solos. Spencer, who celebrated his birthday during the tour's Providence stop, gives great energy and strong vocals to "Vehicle" by The Ides of March and also brings a lighthearted air to the stage when chatting with the audience. Spencer's early-career role in Cats and a recent appearance on HGTV's House Hunters provide him with some laugh-out-loud material. Reichard often serves as Midtown spokesman, reminiscing about the group's origins and sharing stories from their extensive travels. His enthusiasm for The Midtown Men is obvious and infectious in both story and song, and especially in his heartfelt and soulful delivery of "Cry for Me," his "signature" number from Jersey Boys.
Hoff puts his own spin on 60s standards "Never My Love" by The Association and The Zombies' "Time of the Season." Not only does Hoff sing, but he's the most energetic dancer of the group, and his quick steps often take him - with great grace - fully from one end of the stage to the other. Longoria, who originated the role of Joe Pesci in Jersey Boys, displays the fine falsetto that later led him to a star turn as Frankie Valli. He shines during renditions of two of Valli's biggest hits, "My Eyes Adored You," and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." Longoria also brings a genuinely playful quality to his audience interactions.
The show is at its strongest when the Men perform "off the cuff." Occasionally, some dance moves and bits of on-stage shtick feel over-choreographed, but unplanned moments best let the performers' personalities shine through. During the Providence show, for example, a couple near the front of the house needed to exit the auditorium partway through the first act. The Men stopped the show and first begged the duo not to leave (with increasing comic desperation), then changed tack and attempted to charm the couple into bringing drinks back when they returned. Even the musicians joined in, nodding and waving with a clear "Don't' forget us!" message.
Speaking of musicians, The Midtown Men travel with an absolutely first-rate, seven-piece band. These gentlemen are just as invested in the stage performance as the Men, not only displaying truly impressive talent on their instruments but also getting into the act with special nods to the audience and winning choreography. The horn section alone is a show in itself!
The Midtown Men played a one-night-only engagement at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. For more information about The Midtown Men or for a schedule of the group's upcoming performances, visit www.themidtownmen.com.