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REVIEW: Midtown Men bring uptown sounds to downtown Cedar Rapids

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:49 pm   ::  

CEDAR RAPIDS -- The Midtown Men are hanging on to the sounds of the '60s, bringing all the hip harmonies and smooth moves into a modern groove.

The fabulous foursome performed more than 1,000 times together in the original Broadway incarnation of "Jersey Boys," beginning in 2005. They became The Midtown Men in 2007 and are in the midst of their third national tour, swinging through Cedar Rapids on Friday night (1/4/13),where they wowed a full-house crowd at the Paramount Theatre.

Their nearly two-hour show was marvelous -- but not perfect. The horns were way too hot at the start of the show, drowning out the vocals on the first medley, and the singers' microphones just seemed to have a muddy quality overall. I've seen at least half a dozen shows at the Paramount since it reopened in November, and this is the first time I've encountered sound/balance problems.

The band, however, was top-notch, with hot, hot licks from the trombone, trumpet, tenor sax, keyboards, drums, electric bass and guitar, countered by delicate flutters of flute.

The stage picture was slick, with vibrant colors playing over the stage and the black-and-white Manhattan skyline backdrop.

The guys were dashing in their gray suits and skinny black ties in the first half, changing to preppy navy blazers, gray pants and skinny ties in the second half.

The best voice in the pack belongs to tenor Daniel Reichard, wrapping his dreamy, silky smooth sound around such swooners as The Monkees' "Daydream Believer" and The Drifters' "Up on the Roof." Christian Hoff brings a beautiful mellow to his baritone solos -- especially on The Associations' "Never My Love." And chameleon J. Robert Spencer is equally at home in the bass line or popping up to rock The Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'."

My least favorite voice of the group is the one I really expected to like the most -- Michael Longoria's tenor that soars sky-high on the Frankie Valli numbers. I actually liked him best on "Happy Together," which he sang in his lower range. He just didn't seem to make the leap to his falsetto as smoothly and cleanly as I expected.

I did, however, like his upper register on "Candy Girl," and maybe that's because the horns sat that one out, which let the vocals shine. "Big Girls Don't Cry" was a highlight on several fronts, bolstered by some sweetly dorky moves and a little Twist, before sliding into "Sherry" to end the first half.

The second half rocked a little harder with some blistering sounds from the band at the top. The whispered sighs on The Zombies' "Time of the Season" melted all the ice underneath the ultra cool choreography, all hip, sharp and snappy. The screams that greeted the intro to that song continued through "Vehicle," and on through "River Deep -- Mountain High."

The guys engaged the audience throughout the second half, urging us to clap and sing along, which is precisely what we wanted to do. And that's what makes this ensemble work. The guys are elite performers who know how to sell a song and sell a sound.

Their stories are fun and funny, giving us behind-the-scenes glimpses at their lives. Their harmonies are heavenly, all tightly wound around lyrics we love. Smart references to local sites always score points with audiences, and we especially appreciated Reichard calling the post-flood Paramount "a symbol of the resilience of this city."

Bringing them even more up close and personal, they gathered in the lobby afterward to meet fans and sign copies of their debut CD.

The many wonderful, winning aspects of the show rise above the glitches, leaving us with delightful musical memories and some unforgettable melodies swirling in our heads.

 

Related: Broadway foursome headed to the Paramount

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