John Morris Russell, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor led the BPO Friday through a wildly successful program based on one of the most popular Broadway confections of the 21st century – “Jersey Boys”.
The term “jukebox musical” refers to a revue built around a specific composer, group, or time period that (sometimes) uses a thin skeleton of a plot to hang the tunes on. “Jersey Boys” is one of those constructions and used the beginnings of 1960s pop group – the Four Seasons – to create a hit Broadway show which, in turn, spawned a variety of profitable touring company productions and homespun theatrical events.
The success of “Jersey Boys” is also responsible for the birth of The Midtown Men, a quartet of vocalists who first met on the stage of and in the practice rooms for the original version of the play. The guys departed “Jersey Boys” at various times during 2008 but the possibilities for a reunion were already being hatched.
By the time 2010 rolled around, they had crafted a slate of songs built around vintage 1960s era songs and were ready to take their show to the world. Seven years later found them in Buffalo singing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and, as they’ve done all through their history, the guys nailed it.
While classics by the Four Seasons are peppered amidst the program, the weight of the set list leans towards material originally developed and performed by other artists during the ‘60s. So, while “Dawn (Go Away),” “Oh, What A Night (December 1963)” and a blend of “Big Girls Don’t Cry/Sherry” are drawn from the repertoire at the heart of “Jersey Boys,” the bulk of the program comes from outside that catalog.
That’s why you’ll hear tunes like Lennon and McCartney’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “In My Life” bracketed at some point by Motown classics “Get Ready”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, and a slickly crafted medley of hits by Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five, and the Temptations.
But really, it’s the singing and how the singers make audible memorabilia shine anew that makes the Midtown Men’s show such an audience hit. All the vocalists hit their stride in different songs. Daniel Reichard took the lead for “Up On the Roof,” J. Robert Spencer’s take on “California Dreamin’” was cool, Christian Hoff’s rendition of “Time of the Season” was a time capsule, and Travis Cloer's falsetto imaging of Frankie Valli and the young Michael Jackson was devastatingly close to the originals.
It would be nitpicking to note that the choreography’s execution was good but not as synchronized as if the old Motown house choreographer “Cholly” Atkins was there to crack the whip but really, some folks would call that mean and small-minded.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, the performance is hanging around through Saturday, April 1 and is worth the effort to see.