Under the Streetlamp leaped into the spotlight when its PBS TV special began making the rounds. Who were these four guys with the limitless energy and song-savvy presentation of hits from the 1950s and 1960s?
It turns out they met while performing in the Chicago company of "Jersey Boys," where standing ovations from baby boomers and their families illuminated every show. During the run, Michael Ingersoll, who played the role of Nick Massi, gave a solo concert for a local nonprofit group and invited his stage buddies to join him. The enthusiastic crowd convinced them that the American Radio Songbook must be revisited. Overwhelming response to the Under the Streetlamp PBS special launched a nationwide tour that brings the quartet to the Music Center at Strathmore.
Christopher Jones, who played Frankie Valli, explained the origin of the ensemble's name and how their roles as the Four Seasons changed their lives.
|Under the Streetlamp|
|» Where: Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda|
|» When: 8 p.m. Saturday|
|» Info: $28 to $58; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org|
"All four of us have strong vocal backgrounds, so we loved performing in 'Jersey Boys' and seeing the passion audiences have for the music of that period," he said. "We chose the name Under the Streetlamp because the doo-wop style started during the 1950's with working people in urban communities. They wanted to make music with their friends and began harmonizing on street corners in the evening.
"While playing the roles of the Four Seasons in the show, we discovered the passion audiences have for the music of that period and artists like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Crew-Cuts and Johnnie Ray. By utilizing our backgrounds in musical theater and adding choreography, we recreated the performances people loved a generation ago. When we decided to launch Under the Streetlamp, Lakeshore PBS in Indiana gave us a go-ahead for the special and the groundswell of support exceeded our expectations."
Along with Christopher and Michael, the quartet boasts Shonn Wiley and Michael Cunio, who played singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio and Tommy DeVito respectively. To avoid confusion between him and Michael Ingersoll, Cunio goes by his surname, an identity that stuck in high school where there was a surplus of Michaels. His base is New York, while the others live in LA. Shonn Wiley, a mean tap dancer since he began to walk, doubles as vocalist and choreographer.
"I grew up in Adrian, Michigan, and helped my father live out a dream," Wiley said. "Instead of having a dancing career, he did three tours as a Marine in Vietnam. When he returned, he decided it was more important to raise a nice family than to dance on stage, so I grew up watching movies of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire with him, breaking down their routines and perfecting them.
"After attending Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, I moved to New York and got a starring role in '42nd Street.' While playing Bob Gaudio, the fourth member of the Four Seasons and composer of their hit songs, I was fortunate to meet him. When UTS began performing around the country, we met fans in every city who have a real desire to hear his music and everything else from that period. The melodies and lyrics are so special to them that they often sing along with us.
"This isn't dated music. There are always three generations, even four, at every performance. Our biggest fans are from age four to 34. Young kids send us videos of them dancing to that music. If some folks in the audience are dragged there and come reluctantly, once they see how much fun we're all having, they join right in singing along and beating time to the music.
"Our band, based in Chicago, joins us wherever we perform. Right now we're working on a second show for PBS that will be out next year. My greatest fun is being on stage, entertaining, and seeing people having a wonderful time. Since I'm a big movie fan, their reaction to us seems reminiscent of the Depression era when people went to movie musicals to forget their worries."