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Midtown Men pay handsome musical homage to the 1960s

By Lawrence Toppman
ltoppman@charlotteobserver.com
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Charlotte Symphony

    This Pops concert features the Midtown Men, four members of the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys,” performing hits mostly from the 1960s.

    WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.

    WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

    TICKETS: $27.50-$82.50.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or www.carolinatix.org.


The Midtown Men – a strange name, but apt. They strike a balance between uptown suavity (Hugo Boss suits, their website says) and a bit of downtown funkiness, when their 1960s songbook ventures toward Detroit. And they made their names in midtown Manhattan when they met in the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys” eight years ago.

The close-harmony quartet joined the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Friday night for a concert as polished as their black shoes. They’ve sung together as Midtown Men for six years, and they know exactly how to handle a crowd. I would guess the lone moment of spontaneity came when a singer knocked over a stool in the first half (and ad-libbed smoothly), but that makes their energy and commitment even more impressive. To run a musical express train night after night is no easy task.

They work the “Jersey Boys” angle ceaselessly: in anecdotes, reminiscences about cast members, reminders that the musical and its cast album won Tony and Grammy awards. Slightly less than half the musical material in this show comes from “Jersey Boys,” from the opening “Let’s Hang On”/Working My Way Back to You” medley to the second encore of “Bye Bye Baby.”

The Four Seasons weren’t known for slow material, and their philosophy affects this concert. In the first half, midtempo tunes such as “Up on the Roof” and “Time of the Season” slow the pace briefly, but we don’t really get a quiet ballad until well after intermission: “My Eyes Adored You,” arranged for all four to sing rotating leads in a version that surpasses the original in tenderness. (Heresy, I know.)

Michael Longoria doesn’t do a mere Frankie Valli impression in the Four Seasons numbers: His raspy falsetto and note-bending style make him his own man. The unusual thing about Midtown Men is that all the guys can blend, but all can be solid soloists: Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer each capably carry a song every three or four numbers. (None has a voice lower than baritone, though, so all the harmonies are high.)

They brought their own combo, headed by pianist/arranger George Maurer, but his arrangements treated the Charlotte Symphony as more than a beefy string section. The orchestra and buoyant conductor Albert-George Schram brought sonic splendor to “Dawn,” and even Tina Turner would have enjoyed the grandeur of “River Deep, Mountain High.” (On the other hand, a hyperinflated “Big Girls Don’t Cry” sounds overblown.)

The listing on the Blumenthal Performing Arts website isn’t quite accurate: The Midtown Men don’t do songs by the Beach Boys, and some tunes don’t come from the 1960s. They do perform a Motown medley, as advertised, and prove middle-aged white guys in matching gray suits can have their own kind of soul.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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