FELICIA R. LEE NY Times.com 08/10/12
STRUTTING across the stage in red silk jackets, the quartet belted out vintage tunes like “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “Sherry” and “Happy Together.” Two middle-aged women giggled, then shouted, “Those are Temptations moves!” Sidling up to the microphone, rolling their hands, the singers had the air of the Rat Pack, Motown and a nightclub act rolled into one. Between numbers they recounted favorite memories from the past few years, like singing “Oh What a Night” with Dick Clark in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
The Midtown Men is the name of this sort-of boy band, and this private show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark represented a typical performance: mostly songs from the 1960s, from a group sporting slick hair and skinny ties, one of them packing a strong falsetto.
If you’re reminded of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, you’re not far off. For more than a thousand performances beginning in 2005, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, J. Robert Spencer and Michael Longoria, now the Midtown Men, were all part of the original “Jersey Boys” cast; Mr. Hoff won a Tony for playing the hotheaded Tommy DeVito. The stories they tell now are about being on tour and about meeting as actors in a Broadway hit.
Instead of sticking it out on Broadway, they struck out on their own in 2009, after performing as a group since 2007 (while still in “Jersey Boys”). That led to a high-profile conflict. In 2010 the real-life Mr. Valli and Bob Gaudio (the Four Seasons’ chief songwriter), as well as the “Jersey Boys” playwrights, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, filed suit against the Midtown Men — then called the Boys in Concert — asserting that they were trying to confuse audiences into thinking the two shows were related. The Boys in Concert filed a counterclaim, accusing the accusers of “using bully tactics better suited for the schoolyard.”
In September 2010 the case was settled out of court. That same year the group changed its name to the Midtown Men.
Despite the legal dust-up, the Midtown Men’s decision seems to be working. After many dates at state fairs, casinos and tiny towns, their 2012-13 tour — which begins on Saturday at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, N.J., includes 140 shows in 100 cities across the country, in addition to private events. It also includes 10 shows with four big-city symphonies, backed by a full 75- to 85-piece orchestra. And on Sept. 15 they are to appear at Robins Air Force Base near Macon, Ga., alongside the Air Force Band and Gen. Colin L. Powell in an event to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Air Force.
“This started in our dressing room and the addiction to the sound we create together,” Mr. Hoff, 44, said.
Mr. Reichard, 34, who followed “Jersey Boys” with a role in “Candide” at New York City Opera, added, “We’re drawing inspiration from stars like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, guys in suits singing and telling you an occasional dirty joke.”
“Jersey Boys,” which is still playing to full houses on Broadway and has been produced in dozens of cities worldwide, dramatizes the rags-to-riches life stories of Mr. Valli, Mr. DeVito, Mr. Gaudio and Nick Massi — working-class New Jersey guys whose chart-topping hits included “Walk Like a Man” and “Sherry.”
Stage stars with strong followings, from Audra McDonald to Kristin Chenoweth, have balanced concert hall and stage. John Lloyd Young — who won a Tony for his Broadway debut as the bantam Mr. Valli — recently cut an album and rejoined the cast to play Mr. Valli again after more than four years away. John Michael Coppola, who played Mr. Valli in Chicago, has created a solo concert called “A Jersey Voice: Sinatra to Springsteen … and Everyone in Between,” knocking out songs popularized by the Four Seasons and others.
But Mr. Hoff, Mr. Reichard (Gaudio), Mr. Spencer (Massi), and Mr. Longoria (Joe Pesci in the original cast and Mr. Valli) went from playing pop stars in a quartet to trying to be pop stars in a quartet. Echoing the “Jersey Boys” template they sing and weave in their own stories: four guys who met in a Broadway hit and kept on making music.
Steven Suskin, a former producer and the author of “The Sound of Broadway Music” (Oxford University Press), said it’s the close identification between their most celebrated roles and their new career that make the Midtown Men unusual. “I think they are realistic,” he said. “What these actors have done is come up with a viable form of employment. For the most part these guys don’t have a name they can exploit. They did a great job in this one show. I’m certain that if any of them got a Broadway show, they’d be gone in a minute.”
The Midtown Men insist that their plan is to keep performing and to see where their talent takes them. Some said they had rejected offers to do other things.
Mr. Longoria, at 30 the youngest member of the group, argues that the concert career will “only enhance our Broadway careers in the long run,” though he also wants to record. Growing up in Los Angeles, he came East and earned a degree in drama at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. The flexible Midtown Men schedule — they spend one to two weeks of the month on the road — has allowed him to work on an album of contemporary dance tunes.
“We’re doing what a lot of Broadway stars did back in the day,” Mr. Longoria said. “They toured.”
The lawsuit, though, made the men worry about the impact of the headline-making dispute on their families and their careers. “We were very stressed so we went out and ——” Mr. Reichard said.
“Bought new suits,” the four shouted in unison.
Howard H. Weller, the Midtown Men’s lawyer, said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the details that settled their legal worries, but added: “The lawsuit really revolved around the guys being able to do what they loved to do. They earned the right, we asserted, to tell the audience they were stars in the original ‘Jersey Boys,’ ” based on a legal concept known as fair representation.
A disclaimer disavowing any connection to the “Jersey Boys” show appears on the Midtown Men Web site and the self-produced first album, “Sixties Hits,” out last summer. It features 11 songs, including “California Dreamin.’ ” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
Ronald W. Meister, the lawyer for the other side, said the agreement precluded him from discussing what happened. Whether things have been patched up remains to be seen. The producers and Mr. Young declined to participate in an article that would feature the status of all the original Jersey Boys, citing their wish for Mr. Lloyd to receive a separate profile that would not be published alongside the one about the other performers.
Like any Broadway hit, “Jersey Boys” has publicity machinery that’s well-oiled and carefully controlled. As cast members the actors were already doing events like appearances on NBC’s “Today” and performances at Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall. Kenneth Wirth, a friend of Mr. Reichard’s family, caught their act back when “Jersey Boys” was in previews in 2005. With a background in financial services and a love for ’60s pop, Mr. Wirth said he saw the possibilities for them to branch out on their own.
He became their manager and quickly found plenty of work for them. Their first show after they all had left “Jersey Boys” by 2008 was at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in May 2009. “I had this idea there was a story inside a story and more that they could do,” Mr. Wirth said. “I knew there were opportunities for performances in the corporate world, the financial world.”
Traveling nationwide the Midtown Men are earning “substantially more” than they ever made on Broadway, Mr. Wirth said. “We typically get a show from a show. Someone will see them and say, ‘I want to book them.’ Even the symphony world wants new products.”
And people crave the songs they grew up with, said David W. Fleming, former director of development for the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Del., which hosted the Midtown Men last December. “What distinguishes these guys from other people doing the same thing is character,” he said. “When they were on Broadway, at the end of the night they were shaking the hands of the audience.”
Mr. Spencer, 44, has already found post-Midtown Men success on Broadway, starring in the 2008 hit “Next to Normal,” originating the role of Dan Goodman. “I can understand why people would be curious about why we made this move,” Mr. Spencer said, “but I’ve always been an entertainer, whether onstage or behind the stage, and I’m still heavily involved in readings and workshops.”
When asked about a return to Broadway, he answered: “I know it will happen. Right now we have over 140 concerts coming up in the next year and a half. We are at the most amazing, beautiful venues across the country — every PAC, every opera house.
“We’re our own bosses. I just rolled the dice because it felt right. We’ve been able to hit it all.”