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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Midtown Men’s vocals breathe life into Weidner Center

The polished group cherry-picks hits from the ’60s.

PHOTO: Members of The Midtown Men singing group meet concertgoers after Friday night’s show at Green Bay’s Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. Warren Gerds photo

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – A vocal quartet called The Midtown Men is an extremely clever answer to the question, What can four talented guys do together after success on Broadway?

The singers put together a new show, took it on tour(s), found an audience and now have a jolly good time, not only within the group but among folks who see the show.

The Midtown Men returned to Green Bay on Friday night, this time playing the showcase Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. The place was like a giant juke box that only played ’60s songs with the volume cranked up. It was an excellent show (4½ stars out of 5).

Along the way, the audience got to know a bit about the singers before, during and after their 1,000-performance run in the Tony-winning Broadway hit show “Jersey Boys.” By voice, nimble body action and attention to details, the singers demonstrated a bit of what it takes to be a finely tuned professional performer on a quest for continued work.

In a way, this is a glorified copy band. That sounds condescending, but takes a lot to be “a glorified copy band” – a strong backup band made up of seven sharp New York-based musicians, arrangements that suit the voices and the sound, lights and look of solid production.

And desire. By coincidence, I caught The Midtown Men making a promotional appearance on Friday afternoon on WOGB Radio when listening in my car during an errand. The singers were asked to sing a song from the show – a cappella and off the cuff – in the studio. They chose Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Dawn Go Away.” The singers delivered on the spot, with no fancy sound equipment or gimmicks. I thought, “Legit.” The “desire” part was the singers made an effort to get the word out about their show, knowing that folks who caught it would find their time worthwhile.

So, hats off to Michael Longoria, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer (as they appear on stage in their basic formation, left to right).

The performers have gone on to other things since “Jersey Boys” (Spencer getting a Tony nomination in another show). Between other things, they get together for The Midtown Men tours.

Most impressive in Friday’s show was Reichard’s leading solo in “Cry for Me,” pouring R&B intensity into the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons song.

At first, I didn’t like the sound mix. That was soon adjusted, and out came song after song cherry-picked from harmonic hits of a juicy era in group singing.

From the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and the Frankie Valli solo stockpile, the list included “Bye-Bye, Baby” (encore song), “Let’s Hang On,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “My Eyes Adored You,” “Sherry Baby,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Working My Way Back to You.”

Hits of others in the show included “Vehicle,” “ABC 1 2 3,” “Just My Imagination,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” “California Dreamin’,” “Tears of a Clown,” “Happy Together,” “I Second That Emotion” and “My Girl.”

The voices of the individual singers mostly blended well. Although Longoria sings Frankie Valli parts, he doesn’t try to be an exact copy – which is impossible because Valli is Valli. Longoria’s version of “ABC 1 2 3” was a reminder of just how distinct the voice of Michael Jackson was.

The show had plenty of action. Most songs had choreographed moves timed to phrases.

In the first half, The Midtown Men dressed in black suits and shoes, white shirts and narrow black ties. The throwback swanky look today conjures this image: The CIA Sings. (That’s meant to be funny).

In the second half, the look was gray jackets, white shirts and black slacks and shoes.

The singers had fun with the stage floor, a slick one often used for dance programs. They slid around on stage like kids on an ice rink.

The climax included a set of songs from Detroit/Motown leading up to “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” with the crowd standing, swaying, clapping, singing and soaking up the moment. Folks left recharged and refreshed.

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup (as for The Midtown Men), the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PERSON: Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007) was the founding chancellor of UWGB. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. Building projects were in his blood, and he guided the designing of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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