February 10, 2013

Midtown Men takes 'Boys' success and runs with it

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The phone call interrupted the harmonies.

click image to enlarge

The Midtown Men starred on Broadway in the musical smash “Jersey Boys” and now tour the country singing songs of The Four Seasons, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and more.

J. Robert Spencer was rolling across Pennsylvania in a tour bus with the other three members of the Midtown Men. While he talked on the phone, the other three sang in the background.

"We're having a lot of fun," Spencer said, stating the obvious. "This all comes very naturally to all of us."

The four members of the Midtown Men starred on Broadway in the musical "Jersey Boys," which features the story and music of the influential '60s pop band The Four Seasons.

The Midtown Men perform songs from that show, as well as other music from the '60s, Thursday night at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The concert, presented by Portland Ovations, begins at 7:30 p.m.

The tour evolved directly from the success of "Jersey Boys."

"We started this about three years ago," Spencer said. "It was a situation where we just started getting calls to do concerts here and there. It grew more and more, and eventually became more than corporate events, private events and fundraising events. Everybody seemed to want to hear us, so we started hitting it hard and performing this concert."

The four male singers are backed by a seven-piece band. The show is lively and fun, said Spencer, a Tony Award nominee for his role in the Broadway musical "Next to Normal."

"People just love it. They're up on their feet, dancing and singing along," he said.

Spencer and the other members of the group -- Tony winner Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard -- sing the music of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5 and others. But the focus is the music of The Four Seasons. The original Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and the group is among the best-selling musical acts in history.

And there's a strong Maine connection to its success.

Many of the band's hits were co-written by Bob Crewe, who was born in New Jersey and now lives in a Scarborough retirement community. He wrote or co-wrote a string of top 10 hits for The Four Seasons, including "Walk Like a Man," "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry."

He and his brother, Dan Crewe, were partners. Bob handled the creative end of the partnership, while Dan handled the business end of things.

Dan Crewe, 78, lives in Cumberland. He co-founded Gateway Mastering with fellow music veteran Bob Ludwig when he moved to Maine in 1991, and the company quickly became one of the most renowned mastering facilities in the country.

He was glad to learn that the Midtown Men are coming to Portland, because it gives this music a chance with new fans.

"Somehow or other, whatever it is, the music really resonates," Crewe said. "I think the music and the way that the guys sang, which was pretty much street-kind of singing, it was very popular in the late '50s and early '60s. Those harmonies are very powerful, and the songs are very powerful.

"And I'm glad to say my brother wrote most of them, or certainly the biggest ones. I'm also very glad that I was a part of that. It was an exciting period in the music business."

This music may represent nostalgia for some fans, but it is not nostalgic music, Crewe said. It resonates with young people because it is vibrant, danceable and narrative.

"The songs are melodic and often tell stories," he said. "They are the kind of songs we used to listen to rather than look at. We've gone from an aural period in music to a visual period. This material stands up pretty well for being 40 years old or more."

He has seen "Jersey Boys" several times, and each time the audience has risen to its collective feet to sing and dance.

"The audience is very disparate demographically. You see teenagers, and of course you see the white hairs and blue hairs. But everybody is equally enthusiastic."

Spencer has noticed the same thing from the stage.

"When we started off, it was baby boomers. Definitely," he said. "But now it's a real wide demographic."

Performing in "Jersey Boys" was a joy, Spencer said. The musical opened on Broadway in 2005 and won four Tonys in 2006, including Best Musical. It was distinctive, because it was not a typical jukebox musical.

"Jersey Boys" told a wider story. Its success often is cited as a reason for the end of the jukebox musical, which was considered formulaic and not very creative.

"Once it hit Broadway and once all the celebrities came night after night after night, it was absolutely a roller-coaster whirlwind," Spencer said. "It was life-changing, and it changed the face of Broadway forever."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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