Michael Longoria dazzled Broadway audiences with his acclaimed performance as Frankie Valli in the Tony award-winning musical Jersey Boys. He’s joined forces with three of that show’s original cast members to form the vocal group, The Midtown Men. Billed as a high-octane musical tour de force, celebrating the best of the 1960s, the group features Longoria, Tony winner Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard and Tony nominee J. Robert Spencer. Their next performances are this Friday December 20th at North Star Mohican Casino Resort, Bowler, WI; Saturday December 21st at Holiday Hits, Washington, IL and Sunday December 22nd at Marion Cultural and Civic Center, Marion, IL. Longoria has recorded a festive collection Merry Christmas Darling, and recently released a new solo album, Michael Longoria: Like They Do In The Movies.
Tonight, Thursday December 17th, Michael will be performing a Christmas concert benefit for the students of Opening Act. You can buy tickets here.
Ahead of tonight’s show The Queer Review’s Jamie Valentino spoke exclusively with Michael Longoria.
The Queer Review’s Jamie Valentino: I understand that you actually grew up singing Mariachi music. How did you end up on Broadway?
Michael Longoria: “Well, I was born in West Hollywood, if you can believe that. There was a hospital there, and eventually I grew up in East LA. I went to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. My mother was a mariachi singer, so I grew up learning how to sing notes and melodies in Spanish, though I didn’t really know how to speak Spanish. I was Mexican-American, but born here. A lot of times my parents communicated in Spanish, but the kids, we were all English speaking. The one thing that connected us was the mariachi music. I learned how to sing through emotions. I didn’t really understand the words of the songs, but knew they were about romance and tragedy, a lot of times with mariachi music it’s sad. I started out singing mariachi music, because that’s what I knew, but a musical teacher needed singers for West Side Story and so all of a sudden this new world opened up and that’s how I got into musical theatre.”
How does singing in Midtown Men compare to performing in a Broadway show?
“I have ownership over these songs. When you’re in any broadway show as an actor, you’re kind of a piece of clay. The director and the artistic people around you are trying to mould you. You’re trying to give this artistic performance, your heart and soul, but at the end of the day you have to get shaped by other people and answer to others’ opinions of how a role should be done. With The Midtown Men, there was no one that I necessarily had to answer to but myself. I was singing and learning these songs, real classic songs, that we all grew up knowing as the oldies, but I started singing them now as me. It’s more fulfilling in a way. I know when I am standing out on stage, I am giving my true self, my true heart and soul. Take it or leave it, at least you’re leaving knowing who I am. I am not playing a role.”
You recently debuted your new album Just Like the Movies live in concert in New York, how did that go?
“I’d never performed these songs live before and it’s been a project of mine that I’ve been working on since last summer. When I was recording my Christmas album, Merry Christmas Darling, I wanted to put a song on that album called ‘It Must Have Been Love’. Like those mariachi love songs that got to me as a kid, it’s one of those gut-wrenching songs, but with a really cool beat. It’s actually a Christmas breakup song. The song kept lingering in my heart and head, and I thought why don’t I build from this first song and make something amazing from it. There are so many songs from movies, so I thought why not put them all in one album.”
What influenced your song selection?
“They were movies that I grew up with. I wanted to make sure that the majority of people that I knew at least understood the references. I didn’t want them exactly to be black and white movies, but in our consciousness now. I started with 70s, 80s, 90s and so on. I listened to every song possible, and I saved every one that spoke to me, then I went back to that list, and I just kept having to cut it down, until there were 15 songs. They are all epic love songs, and there’s a sense of familiarity to them, a sense of home.”
Is there a song in there that’s particularly challenging to sing or one that you connected to most?
“The thing about me is that I like to go for the biggest challenge always.”
I saw a Whitney Houston song in there…
“Yes, that’s definitely one of the more difficult ones! It’s also difficult for my heart, because it’s not that something is wrong, but you love someone so much. These are all songs with strong emotions, so the difficult part was actually thinking about how I’m going to get through all of it without getting too emotional.”
How would you describe the relationship between music and movies?
“I think that a lot of these songs are pop songs, but they were written with the theme of the movie in mind. They are very relatable to that whole theatre theme. Theatre songs are epic and about one moment in time, and many of these songs are special because they are written for that specific scene.”
Would you say you have a different approach to singing the songs on your albums to performing on Broadway?
“I was kind of terrified when I started this album. Broadway sounds a certain way, with big instruments. Christmas music is like, ‘OK, add a bunch of jingle bells to different songs, it’s going to sound great’. With movie songs they’re more like what’s on the radio. I think it’s like the gay boy fantasy to do all these songs. When I listen to a lot of them back, it’s like, I wish I had these songs in my key when I was younger, so I could be living my life. Just the fact they are all so different, from different eras, but what brought them all together is making sure that I’m speaking from the same voice, from my experience. It’s difficult, because when they are so well-known it’s hard to make them original. That fear kind of went away though, when I started to connect them to my own experiences.”
I think that’s pretty special for the LGBTQ community to hear these classics being sung by a gay man.
“There’s definitely a different energy, especially when you know it’s being sung by a gay man, because there’s a different experience. Every experience is valid, and that’s another reason why I chose a lot of these songs. A lot of times we can feel like these aren’t our songs, that this is a different world that we don’t necessarily belong to. But when you really bring it down and connect it to yourself, it makes it way different, it makes it more real to whomever is singing it. I was happy to spend the time picking those songs that I felt would give us some ownership in some of these awesome moments in movie history.”
What was working with Grammy nominated producer Michael Croiter?
“Oh my God, it was amazing! What’s great about Michael Croiter is that he let me fly. We would go into the studio and do the band recording session, then he would just give me free reign over my vocal session. He would let me come in whenever I wanted for however long I wanted to, do whatever I wanted to do, whether it was lead or background vocals. All the background vocals in the album are me. I approached them from more of an emotional standpoint, like how my emotions would sound. Not just “oohs” and “aahs”, but sounds that you can feel.”
What would you like to see crossed off your bucket list?
“You know, I want to continue to make music, for people to continue to listen to my music. I want people to hear my heart through my songs. I’ve always been a singer but, now, I’m finally putting out my own version of things, my own voice. Broadway is a specific thing, you have to fit into a specific character, a specific storyline. What I am doing with my album is I’m taking out stories from other storylines and making them my own story. I am capturing who I am as a gay man in 2019. Later on, decades from now, I want people to be able to understand my heart by only needing to listen to me sing.”
By Jamie Valentino
Michael performs a Christmas concert benefit for the students of Opening Act tonight Tuesday December 17th. You can buy tickets, here. For more details on his upcoming live dates with The Midtown Men, head to the official website here.