From “The Sopranos,” to “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” to jabs at Governor Chris Christie on late night television, New Jersey has more than its share of cultural exports. And when it comes to music, the Garden State is a heavy-hitter.
The Jersey Tenors are singing the praises of that lyrical legacy in Florida Studio Theatre’s latest cabaret production.
It’s a touring quartet of top-flight male vocalists: Danny Calvert, CameRon Johnson, Brian Noonan (the bandleader), and Vaden Thurgood. They’re accompanied by Melissa Yanchak, the group’s decidedly female keyboardist and conductor.
Their act’s strategy is simplicity itself. The audience arrives with visions of New Jersey stereotypes dancing in their heads. The foursome plays with these expectations—either conforming to clichés or defying them. But it’s really just an excuse for four talent singers to show off.
And talented they are. They’ve all been classically trained and originally met at a production of “Les Miz.” They clicked—and decided to stick together. And so, the quartet was born.
Predictably, their songs give a nod to New Jersey’s usual suspects. With tunes like “Beyond the Sea,” “Ladies Night,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “I Will Always Love You,” they hold up their metaphorical lighters to such Jersey boys and girls as Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, Kool & the Gang, Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen and Whitney Houston.
But other New Jersey connections are more of a stretch.
“Greased Lightning” is from the musical “Grease.” It took place in a suburb of Chicago, but starred Jersey-born John Travolta. Journey’s a California band. But “Don’t Stop Believing” put the lights out on “The Sopranos.” That happened in Jersey, right? “Shaddup You Face” was written by an Australian—but it’s an Italian-American stereotype, and that should count for something. Sir Elton John is British to the bone—but “Your Song” probably played some New Jersey jukeboxes. So far, so good …
But then they get all operatic with Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Funniculi Funnicula,” and “One Day More” from “Les Miserables.”
At which point I give up.
As noted, the Jersey connection is just an excuse. Noonan’s an Irish-America—who peppers his speech with Sicilian slang. Seriously?
No. Not seriously.
Their act is shtick, but it’s self-conscious shtick. The audience can see right through it. The Jersey Tenors know it and give you a wink. They’re really just showing off.
Shtick aside, they’ve got it.
And they might as well flaunt it.
IF YOU GO
The Jersey Tenors perform through July 16, at Florida Studio Theatre’s Court Cabaret, 1247 First St., Sarasota. Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org for more information.