Denise Truscello / WireImage / DeniseTruscello.net
Published Friday, April 29, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Updated Friday, April 29, 2016 | 1:35 p.m.
During opening night of their new production “Jukebox” at the Venetian’s Sands Showroom, the guys from Human Nature halted the singing to ask the audience to call out their favorite songs.
At one point, the affable foursome — brothers Andrew and Mike Tierney, Phil Burton and Toby Allen — took requests to perform one Motown classic. Shortly after, remaining true to the "Jukebox" theme, they invited suggested artists from their native Australia.
So I shouted “AC/DC” at the stage! “T.N.T.!”
Those around who had not known much of Human Nature before this performance laughed at that request. I had to turn around and explain, “Seriously, these guys do a great ‘T.N.T.’ ”
No bluff there. In 2003, Human Nature long ago recorded the song on an album issued by a comic radio host out of Sydney titled “Andrew Denton’s Musical Challenge 2,” which was a collection of artists performing songs out of their usual genre.
With Human Nature, today, there needs to be no “usual genre.” Discarded, but not entirely, is the specific Motown theme that has carried the act in Las Vegas since it opened at Imperial Palace seven years ago.
“Jukebox” is the title that is designed to envelop many styles of songs. The common thread, naturally, is that they must be produced as a cappella numbers and also uniformly recognizable to a wide-ranging audience.
The show is once more expertly presented, with dazzling video of throwback scenes (including .45s and a jukebox loading a record) beamed from the LED screen in the back, and that screen is used to great jocularity as the modern-day Human Nature guys meet up with their boyband images decked out in lily-white clothes from the 1990s.
To further cement the show’s theme and title, an old jukebox, flashing with alternating colors, is presented onstage. Another new element to be applauded is the addition of ballroom dancers Jami Jones and David Oliveri, who moved to Las Vegas to perform in “Le Reve — the Dream” at Wynn Las Vegas, as “Jukebox” realizes that it needs to be more than a tribute show to succeed.
Does the format work? Yes, because the guys have never sounded better, and the upgraded band, dubbed The Jukebox All-Stars, is crisp and powerful. I have always enjoyed the choreography in the show because these moves are so much fun to mimic. You can typically find me grooving as I walk out of Sands Showroom joking that I am “The Fifth Nature.” That sensation alone is evidence that the show is a good time.
But if you follow this show’s setlist, you detect that the vibe is remarkably similar to what was produced in the Motown format. Not a bad thing because the Motown show was a financial success and popular with locals and tourists (the members of Human Nature have said they could have continued that theme indefinitely even if it meant moving to a new venue).
So we have a high complement of non-Motown songs that still evoke a particular moment in time, which was around the birth and heyday of Motown. To roll out some of the finer moments, “Earth Angel,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Under the Boardwalk” are slotted early as the guys show off their great vocal range and blend.
In a nifty mash of past and present, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King slips into “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith. Later, in what is the “Street Corner Section,” the guys move into “Only You” with “Stay” matched with Allen and Mike’s great take of “All About That Bass.”
And there was a time when the men of Human Nature winced when reminded of their boyband years. Once during a radio show with them, I referred to them as a “former boyband,” only to have our producer relay a message over my headphones from one of the group’s reps in the control room: Please don’t call them a boyband.
But today, there is an entire stretch of boyband numbers: “He Don’t Love You” (a rare original performed in this show), “The Right Stuff” (New Kids on the Block), “I Want It That Way” (Backstreet Boys) and “Bye, Bye, Bye” (’N Sync). The payoff at the end of this stretch is that the guys, all in their 40s, collapse in mock exhaustion.
The heft of the boyband segment is “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “You Should Be Dancing,” “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “I’ll Be There.” Sure, we are expanding the scope of who is and is not a boyband, and I’ll argue that The Beatles, for starters, should not be described as a boy band.
But the inclusion of these songs gives the show far more artistic range than offered in the Motown show, and even later, the guys blast off with “Twist and Shout,” another dandy.
It was during these moments when I thought of where the Human Nature act evolves from “Jukebox,” or even in this format. There are a number of areas to research. If you want to talk of The Beatles, I would love to hear Human Nature take on “Because” from Abbey Road. That’s far more in the four-part-vocal theme than is “I Saw Her Standing There.”
But this is the tantalizing quality of Human Nature, where the songs in “Jukebox” can be swapped in and out as the mood changes. And I hear that the guys have produced “T.N.T.” recently in the show. Terrific! A little Aussie innovation is good for the soul.
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