Boyz II Men’s signature mix of R&B, Motown and pop is definitively Philly, but the opening of their new resident show at the Mirage was something of a homecoming.
“We’ve been doing this a long time,” said tenor Shawn Stockman, “and we’ve always felt Vegas was the missing piece of the puzzle.”
The group has changed and matured a lot since it was conceived in 1985 on the campus of a Philadelphia performing arts high school, but the voices that make up Boyz II Men are as tremendous as ever, and their repertoire has become a catalog of classics.
“Our love for performing and our love for love songs still remain,” Stockman said.
Throughout the show, the three headline performers bond with their audience over their mutual love for “real music.”
Baritone Nathan Morris, whom Wanyá Morris (tenor) described as the “brains” of the group, described “real music” as “the kind of music you can actually sing along to, the kind of music you can actually laugh and cry to, the kind of music you can actually clean your house to, the kind of music you can actually sit a beer to [and] the kind of music you can actually make love to.”
Boyz II Men’s commitment to excellence is clear from the show’s first note. The group breaks onto the stage full-force, with big voices and full-on synchronized dance. In their identical black suits and white sneakers, the three waste no time getting down to their mega-hits. When Stockman finishes out his first solo literally “on bended knee,” it’s clear that the audience is in for one incredible night.
The boys appear in gold sequined suit jackets for a Motown medley including The Temptations’ “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination” and Smoky Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears,” then don red hoodies and settle in for an a capella jam session with an old pal. (No spoilers!) Watching four close friends wander down memory lane to strains of The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” and The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is as touching as it is awe-inspiring.
The show is remarkably balanced. Boyz II Men celebrates with “Mowtownphilly” but is sensual in “I’ll Make Love to You.” They are heart-wrenching in “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and heartwarming in “A Song for Mama.” The performers appear equally comfortable to sit and chat with each other and the audience, to sway on stage to a soloist’s ballad and to show off their flair with nonstop fancy footwork.
The Terry Fator Theatre is the ideal venue for this show. The stage is the perfect size for the three stars and their (slammin’) live band and the video screens that back and flank the stage lend atmosphere to the visual performance without overpowering the production. But the stadium-style seating is a huge plus.
Give me a minute to explain.
See, Boyz II Men came to prominence in the 1990s — an era full of music that is too old to be trendy and too recent to be retro. The 20- and 30- somethings who filled the theater the night we saw the show were teenagers when the artists’ debut single “Motownphilly” hit the airwaves — many too young to go to concerts.
These fans had probably never heard the music of their youth live, and lots of them had — like us — hidden their persistent love of boy bands from their coworkers and friends since 2005. So looking out over the sea of spectators to see some 1,200 eager faces trained on the stage in the same wide-eyed wonder they themselves feel is liberating.
Feel like jumping to your feet and dancing? So does the person next to you. And the person a row above you. And every person in the theater. Seeing Boyz II Men live is communal catharsis.
The energy is so strong that the night we saw the show, the audience rushed the stage. Twice. And best of all, the performers loved it. They kissed hands. They handed out roses. They hugged fans and danced with admirers even as they belted out the songs that made them swoon.
Maybe the best thing about Boyz II Men at The Mirage is that the group is so naturally gifted and so good at performing that the production will always be electric.
In other words, it would be almost impossible for the show to go badly.
Band misses a cue? No problem. Boyz II Men are top-notch veteran performers. Odds are the audience would never know.
The sound in the theater goes out? No problem. Deep down, these guys are a capella singers. They’ve performed in high school hallways. They don’t need mics to make musical magic. Plus, Wayná’s voice may have been what blew the circuits. (Stockman called him “the finest singer that you will see ever live,” and he could be right.) You’ve got nothing to worry about.
Fire alarm goes off and emergency sprinklers spray down the theater? No problem. Boyz II Men will break into “Water Runs Dry” and you’ll forget all about it and let yourself drown in their dulcet sound.
Costume malfunction? That’s a bad example. Odds are you’d been wishing for one. Preferably during “I’ll Make Love to You,” right? We know.
An army of rabid man-eating dogs storms the theater amid a global flood and the onset of nuclear war? Boyz II Men will break into their heartbreak classic “End of the Road,” and you’ll slip blissfully into the afterlife.
Let’s be clear: none of these problems actually occurred on Boyz II Men’s opening night. In fact, the production was almost flawless from top to bottom. But before you see it live, you should prepare to feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Once the show starts, it will take you less than a minute to realize where that is: right between Philly and Vegas, where a trio of voices from good times gone by are calling you home.