It’s just too good to be true, can’t take our eyes off these Midtown Men! The readers have been waiting for the third installment in the Oh, What a Night interview tetralogy. Featuring Jersey Boys leading man J. Robert Spencer, we go in-depth about The Midtown Men experience.
Thank you so much for a quick second of your time, if you’ll just introduce yourself, we’ll get started!
Robert Spencer: My name is J. Robert Spencer and I am a Tony Award-nominated actor from New York City. My first Broadway show was a show called Side Show. I met my wife in that show. For the next seven years I did every reading of every play and of every musical, I probably did all of these new different projects at one point or another, probably 25 new and different projects in that span of time. Within that span of time I was doing Cats and Tommy on the road for a little while. I was always working as an actor but I really wanted that next Broadway gig. Seven years later I read this script, they wanted to see me for this show called Jersey Boys. I read that script and it was pretty much one of those things where I just knew instantaneously for me that this was it. I called my wife and said, “Well, I’m going to get a lead in a Broadway show.” I knew it. I knew that this was the one.
I actually auditioned for the role of Tommy DeVito, but I did something very funny at the audition. Whatever it was that I did made the director lean over and whisper something into the musical director’s ear. They said, “You know what? We think you’d be better for Nick Massi, we want to read you for Nick Massi.” I said alright and I literally went out into the hallway and I glanced at Nick Massi’s monologues that they gave me then and there for the audition. I just needed two minutes. I looked it over and I knew it, I knew he was much more my guy than Tommy. I was in the hallway for two minutes. I knocked on the door, I opened the door, and the director was biting into his sandwich and I said, “I’m ready.” And they were like, “Wait— you’re ready to read for Nicky? Um, alright.” So I read on the spot, and I walked out of there, and I knew I’d landed the part. I just had to wait for the phone call. The phone call came a couple hours later.
I really knew from the get-go that we were going to be in this box office phenomenon. I knew I was going to be in something that was going to be groundbreaking. I didn’t know the absolute magnitude of it at that point in the midst of it? But I definitely knew going into it that it was going to be a slam dunk for sure. Now going from that, after 1,300 performances on Broadway with that show, and being the original Nick Massi and all of the wonderful stuff that goes along with that— to then go into the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Next to Normal, that was an amazing achievement and turning point for me as an actor. Then, to go from the wonderful success of that to getting a phone call from Daniel (Jersey Boy originator Daniel Reichard) literally at the end of my Next to Normal run, and he says, “Hey! Christian, and Michael, and I are doing this thing. And we wanted to know if you wanted to do it with us. It’d be great to have the fourth original guy.”
I said, “Well, you know? As long as it’s not a wedding band.” And I was real serious about that. I had no desire to go backward. I’d done the wedding bands in college, I had no desire to go back and do that again. I have no objection to anyone in a wedding band, just for me personally and artistically it was not the journey that I wanted to take having just come off two smash hit Broadway musicals. We all have really come together and we’ve really created a wonderfully successful, fun and entertaining theatrical experience. This has a very nostalgic feel to it because of the music, because of the era. It has a very “Rat Pack” feel to it because of the way we’re dressed, and then with our comradery and our brotherhood. Add that to our years individually of growing up with this music. Bring that together in one show with a seven-piece band, and we’re going on seven years, over 600 performances, and it’s really been amazing.
We’ve produced an album, actually two albums on our own, and to be able to do that, as well as a Christmas single with Stevie Van Zandt and the E Street Band— that was about three years ago— and to get to open for other great acts at charity events, to get to work with people like Dionne Warwick, Bruce Springsteen; it’s just incredible. Here we were as four Broadway actors who happened to know how to play instruments, and sing, and dance, and act. And we started out portraying these rockstars on a Broadway stage. And now in so many ways we are living that life of traveling on the road with this music that these guys were playing in that era, the guys that we were portraying, we’ve become them. And we’re not just doing The Four Seasons. It’s great that we get to do Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, The Rascals, and Motown. It’s really an incredibly fun night of us jamming out. Did any of that answer your question?
That answered my question and it was a beautiful answer.
Haha, thanks, Bobby. What is it about music from this era that really speaks to you and makes you want to do a show that is still running after seven years on the road?
Bobby: For me personally it feels that the music from that era had such heart and was totally from the heart. When I’m a dad driving down the road with my kids with the radio playing and I hear the music of today? It all sounds the same. Not one of these modern sounds has a message of courage, compassion, or fighting for your rights. It’s all about getting it on the dance floor. I get it, I know what record companies, producers, and artists want nowadays. They want money. No one is using their platform to send a message. The thing is, the stuff that our country was going through in the 60’s is parallel to the place that we’re at right now in the 21st century. When you go through the catalogue of this music from the 60’s you realize not only is it a great catalogue of music but there’s a message that we can still say today that they were telling back then. The message they sent back then made a difference and a change. Those artists made a difference and a change. If more artists of today’s radio would do what those guys were doing back then I think we’d see a lot more growth and change in our country as a society. It’s certainly in the history books that it worked back then so it can work now. That’s why that music is crucial. It’s beautiful and it may be hokey and from the heart? But it has significance. And it still has significance today.
Is there a song either from Jersey Boys or The Midtown Men that really resonates with you?
Bobby: From the Jersey Boys experience the thing on stage I enjoyed most performing was when we did “Dawn” from The Four Seasons. On our stage it’s always been the opportunity to perform not just solos of my own but just performing “Get Ready.” The energy of that song with Michael singing it? We’re The Pips, he’s the Gladys and we’re The Pips. When you can just kick back with a groovy tune and just shake your thing together and back somebody up with that old style movement and sound, it’s just great. We have a lot of that in our show. To really pinpoint just one thing is really difficult for me because I enjoy it all.
What would you say has been the transitional difference between Jersey Boys and The Midtown Men?
Bobby: Well with The Midtown Men, we’re just us. We’re just a singing group. We’re just Bobby, Christian, Daniel, Michael. We tell the audience the story of how we met on 52nd street in Jersey Boys and how we loved singing this music so much not just on stage but in our dressing rooms that we started The Midtown Men. We’re not performing Jersey Boys, we’re just the four well-known and established, iconic Broadway originals who made that show what it is and will be forever more. What an incredible thing to say and to have been a part of it and in a lot of ways to continue that in our own way, we’re continuing that story. This isn’t The Four Seasons’ story anymore; this is our story now.
What would you say is the big challenge in doing The Midtown Men?
Bobby: Hmm. I think the travel is the most challenging. That’s always been the most challenging thing. There’s probably a number of different things that are challenging but travel is the first thing that came to my mind. When you first start off traveling on the road it’s pretty hardcore. I can pretty much say after so many miles that I am now only a first class passenger on every flight from here forward. You really have to pay your dues, and Lord knows I paid them those first two years traveling all throughout this country. Now I’m just enjoying that one little bit of the lap of luxury you get, which is a bit of first class. In all honesty? It’s always challenging when you’re with your family and we are a family. You know, it’s balancing personalities, and being together on the road all the time. When we’re on the road, we really make the most of the road we’re on. When we’re driving from town to town or city to city, we fly, we land, and we hit the road running. All that traveling on the road, that’s our office. So we’re working, what’s coming up, what’s the next idea, where do we need to work on what harmony. It’s challenging but it’s also invigorating because we all do it so well together. We really work well together and we really understand each other. But like I said, small quarters can sometimes wear and tear. But when we get on stage? Everything goes away and all that matters is everything in the moment. And that’s how it is every night and it’s just great.
Is there a moment in The Midtown Men that speaks to you as the defining moment of the show? Does it vary from night to night?
Bobby: I think emotionally and energy-wise it’s always a different vibe every night because of different audiences and venues. When we get to the moment of the show where we sing “In My Life” by The Beatles, at least for me, everything about that song conveys love and relationships. That tends to be a really nice moment in our show for us and for the audiences. It’s reflecting, as the song goes on, back on loved ones gone and loved ones sitting right next to you.
What has being a part of The Midtown Men taught you about yourself?
Bobby: Hmm. It’s taught me that you can’t ever sit and get comfortable. You always have to be on your toes and thinking “what’s the next thing we’re going to do?” You’re always trying to reinvent the wheel so you don’t get humdrum about it. That is one thing I can say that we always do all the time, we always bring new things to the show. In a lot ways we have a very set, rock-solid show that features at least 37 songs that we can grab at a moment’s notice from all of these songs that we’ve collected and arranged over these years. Right now our set consists of 26 of those songs. We keep adding more to the pile because we never want to just sit still. We have a lot of audience members who are repeaters. So it’s a lot of pressure because it’s important for us in a lot of ways to keep it really fresh. If I was just going all over the country to someplace brand new every single day? I bet you that show would stay exactly the same. The key to it in a lot of ways is “oh, shoot! Such-n-such is here tonight!” And when that person keeps coming back, and thank God they do, but you immediately think, “we need to change this up!” And it’s not just for them but I really need to change it up for me too. We always have to keep moving forward and thinking and keep up on our toes. That’s what I’ve learned with this business and with this career in general.
What is it that you are hoping audiences will take away with them after spending the night with you seeing The Midtown Men?
Bobby: I can just say what I proudly and humbly say that they take away every night, which is forgetting about the world for a while and just smiling.
Why should people come and see The Midtown Men?
Bobby: Because the opportunity to have New York City come to your home town is a unique experience. I say this wall humility but I also say it with extreme knowledge and confidence with how we are as performers and entertainers and knowing what we’ve given to audiences across the country going on seven years: We have put our blood, sweat, and tears into this show. Into every dance step, into every finger snap, into every harmony, into every bit of hairspray we put on our head to walk on that stage, we have delivered the goods. I think that it’s an inspiring evening to see four hard-working blue-collared men and a seven-piece band who do this professionally for a living and really see why we were cast as the original Jersey Boys. You need to come see and hear why we’re the guys.
The Midtown Men will play a one-night only engagement at The Weinberg Center for the Arts— 20 W. Patrick Street in the historical district of downtown Frederick, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 600-2828 or purchase them online.
To read Part 1 of the Oh, What a Night! Interview quartet featuring Michael Longoria, click here.
To read Part 2 of the Oh, What a Night! Interview quartet featuring Christian Hoff, click here.