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The Midtown Men give Christmas the retro treatment

The Midtown Men

2 and 8 p.m. Saturday

Bass Hall, Fort Worth




Posted 7:50am on Saturday, Dec. 01, 2012

J. Robert Spencer, who originated the role of Nick Massi in the Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys on Broadway, as well the other three actors who played the Four Seasons in that show's debut, are obviously fans of music of that group's heyday, the '60s. But that's not all they share a passion for.

"We're all fans of Christmas," Spencer says, "and the thing we love most is the music and the classic Christmas tunes we grew up with."

He's referring to the holiday tunes performed by Elvis Presley and Motown artists in the '60s, such as Darlene Love, with her massive hit Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). You'll hear some of those when the guys, who have been touring as the Midtown Men for three years, add Christmas tunes to their show, which will be performed twice Saturday at Bass Hall.

They'll also perform a song they recently recorded, All Alone on Christmas, written by Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band. That song has also been recorded by Darlene Love and RuPaul, among others.

"Stevie called us up and said he had two days open in September, and we had the same two days, and so we recorded it," Spencer says.

That recording is now available on iTunes, and through the end of this year, 100 percent of the proceeds from its downloads will go to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy disaster relief.

Spencer grew up in Plano and fell in love with theater under the direction of Plano West drama teacher John Steele, who cast Spencer as a child in the high school's musicals. After college, Spencer took off for New York, where he has lived for 20 years.

Thus began his life as an actor in the Big Apple. He got his first Broadway opportunity in the musical Side Show in 1997, as a swing. In 2005, his big chance came with Jersey Boys, which smartly tells the warts-and-all story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and features many of the group's big hits in stunning re-creations.

The show is still running on the Great White Way, and Spencer stayed with it for three years, until he got another great opportunity in the musical Next to Normal. The show, about a woman, Diana, with bipolar disorder, won Tony and Pulitzer prizes, and earned Spencer a Tony nod for his portrayal of Diana's husband, Dan.

After Normal, he and three other original Jersey Boys performers -- Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard -- created the Midtown Men to keep the music alive (John Lloyd Young, who played Frankie, had his own projects to get to). They also wanted to celebrate other hit music from that era, including songs by the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, the Turtles, Tina Turner, and the Mamas and the Papas, and from the Motown label.

"We asked ourselves if we could make a living doing this," Spencer says. "Once our network started growing, it went from parties to events to concerts. People were enjoying the show. It started off kind of steady, word of mouth."

That organic growth meant going from 60 concerts in their first year of touring to more than 100 in their third.

"Crowds were coming back and venues were giving us repeat business," he says. "There is a significant love from baby boomers, but they were bringing their kids, and their kids. It reaches all ages. That's what's so fun about the show."

And for that, he's feeling grateful and lucky.

"It's something that we absolutely love to do, which is be onstage with our friends and sing this incredible music that everybody loves."

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