OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Midtown Men shine with Pasadena Pops at Los Angeles County Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Midtown Men, who performed more than 1,000 times in the original Broadway run of “Jersey Boys,” appeared with the Pasadena Pops at the Los Angeles County Arboretum last night.

Since Michael Feinstein took over as Principal Conductor of the Pasadena Pops five years ago, the pattern for the summer schedule has settled into a familiar — and comfortable — pattern. Feinstein conducts three of the shows and appears as singer in the fourth.

Then there is the fifth show, which usually falls in the No. 2 slot on the schedule. This year Pops management found a great “outlier” when it imported The Midtown Men — four members of the original Broadway cast of the long-running the hit Jersey Boys — to the Los Angeles County Arboretum Saturday night. In addition to a highly pleasing performance, the Midtown Men raised an intriguing question, as well.

It undoubtedly helped the quartet, and certainly helped the large audience, that Pops Resident Conductor Larry Blank and the orchestra provided backup. Blank, who has undoubtedly conducted thousands of a widely varied number of concerts, allowed the orchestra to open by playing a lengthy medley of songs from Grease, which they did superbly. He also provided a steady, sure hand throughout the balance of the evening and the orchestra played with solid assurance.

That brought on The Midtown Men — Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer — who look a bit like the Rat Pack and delivered a high-energy performance that belied the fact that they have performed this show in more than 700 venues across the U.S. and around the world.

During first-half introductions, the audience learned how each member got into the original Broadway run of Jersey Boys, where they played more than 1,000 performances before creating their own show and heading out on the road.

The intros assumed that the audience had either seen the original Broadway show, which has spawned several nationwide tours and a long-running Las Vegas version, or at least knew the story: the formation, success and eventual break-up of the 1960s rock ‘n roll group The Four Seasons.

In addition to a couple of songs from Jersey Boys, Saturday night’s first-half performance featured music by The Beatles and other rock groups from the 1960s (illness sent me home at intermission, which included a larger Jersey Boys set).

Honed by years on the road, the program was polished and certainly played to the Baby Boomers in the audience who grew up on this music during their teens. Moreover, the group’s diction was unusually precise.

However, early in the program one of the “Men” opined that the 1960s was history’s greatest era for rock and roll. My wife and I discussed this on the ride home and both of us (who predate the Baby Boomer era by a couple of years) felt that the 1950s were better than its succeeding decade, at least in part because the 1950s saw the rise of Elvis Presley.

On the other hand, as Michael Feinstein said about Broadway’s “Golden Age” during the Pops season’s opening concert in June, what you think about Broadway and rock and roll “golden” era depends on the age of the person giving the opinion. Whatever the answer, Saturday proved to be a satisfying argument for the 1960s era of that iconic music.

• Feinstein returns to the Arboretum stage on July 29 as he sings music from the Swing era(s): Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and others. Blank will be on hand again to lead the orchestra. INFO
• Feinstein will appear next Sunday at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center playing the piano, telling stories and singing songs from “The Great American Songbook,” the collection of music that he has continued to espouse with almost religious fervor. INFO

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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