The Midtown Men (from left to right): Michael Longoria, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, J. Robert Spencer. Photo courtesy of The Midtown Men
By Kyle Poluyko
In 2005 Jersey Boys, the musical chronicling the music and story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, swept onto the Broadway stage to tremendous accolades, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical the following year. Actor and Tony Award nominee J. Robert (Bobby) Spencer originated the role of Nick Massi in the production. So popular is Jersey Boys that it continues to be one of Broadway’s most successful musicals, attracting and beguiling audiences across the globe. Four original cast members known as The Midtown Men did just that on Sunday night to packed crowd at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium with a sophisticated concert, bringing the music of the 60s and the air of the Jersey Boys to the stage.
Spencer, a Tony Award nominee for Next to Normal, Tony Award winner Christian Hoff (Jersey Boys), Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard captivated the audience for two hours with entertaining stories and anecdotes, and suave renditions of definitive 60s hits. It was the friendship the gentlemen formed on Broadway and their shared affinity for the music of the era that gave rise to The Midtown Men.
Of Jersey Boys, Spencer said “It superseded everyone’s expectations but I didn’t know it was going to be the phenomenon it turned out to be,” recalling his three-and-a-half-year Broadway experience. The initial inception of The Midtown Men came quickly and was a no-brainer that began purely with that friendship. “We started in our dressing rooms, recalling our favourite songs and figuring out harmonies.” It wasn’t long before interest in the gentlemen’s showmanship began to grow.
“People would enquire if we could sing at some fundraising events,” recalls Spencer. “We made up a show on the fly. We got a band, put everyone together, made up some choreography, and told some stories. We went out and we did this from time to time.”
After departing Jersey Boys and moving on to other Broadway endeavours – for Spencer it was the powerful and Pulitzer Prize winning Next To Normal which garnered him his first Tony nomination for Best Actor – the opportunity to perform as The Midtown Men for a living became a reality and the four forged ahead with a music catalogue that embodied a generation – the 60s.
“That’s the wonderful thing about the 60s,” said Spencer. “We didn’t just sit around listening to Frankie Valli. We got [sic] The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Turtles, Motown. The list goes on and on.” Soon, their rich vocals and charismatic rapport had them headlining in celebrated Atlantic City and more obscure parts of North America, with many an audience feeling The Midtown Men were the next best thing to – or better than – seeing Jersey Boys.
Now a celebrated act in their own right, Spencer and The Midtown Men won’t overlook the relevance of Jersey Boys in their success. “The people know us guys, us four guys from that show and that’s something special, so to bring that across the country, to Canada and to Thunder Bay is something we’re really proud of.”
From the moment the curtains swept open, The Midtown Men charmed the audience with that effortless rapport and dynamic, compelling vocals. They elicited a warm and exuberant response as they evoked nostalgia and covered songs from their debut album, Sixties Hits. The set list included “Sherry,” “Time of the Season,” “Working My Way Back to You,” and an enthralling rendition of “My Eyes Adored You,” during which the audience’s breath was collectively held – one could have heard a pin drop. That album has received critical acclaim and five-star ratings on iTunes. It is no surprise.
At the close of the show, Spencer, Hoff, Longoria and Reichard quickly made their way to the lobby to meet and greet admirers, receive thanks, and sign autographs. They made each person that approached them the centre of their attention, capping off a night of true entertainment, style and class that, these days, is hard to come by.
If you missed the show, do not despair, you can pick up a copy of Sixties Hits on iTunes; visit themidtownmen.com for more information.