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Backed by KC Symphony, Boyz II Men gives big Kauffman Center crowd satiny soul and R&B

Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men COURTESY OF ICM PARTNERS

In 2016, Boyz II Men turned 25 years old. That quarter of a century has been kind to its current membership, which now numbers three, and to its music, a lush, luxuriant blend of R&B, soul and pop that still resonates with fans who span a few generations, including, it turns out, supporters of classical music.

Saturday night, before a sold-out crowd in Helzberg Hall inside the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the trio from Philadelphia was joined by the Kansas City Symphony for the first of four events in this season’s Pop Series. Saturday’s was the second of the weekend’s three Boyz II Men concerts; all three drew capacity crowds.

The show began with a summation of the trio’s successful career from Jason Seber, the symphony’s new assistant conductor and a self-proclaimed Boyz fan, going back to high school.

Seber led the symphony through an overture and then an elegant orchestral version of “One Sweet Day,” the Boyz’ blockbuster duet with Mariah Carey, released in 1995.

After that, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Nathan Morris took the stage and began a nearly two-hour showcase of a discography that comprises 11 albums, five of which have gone either platinum or gold, and includes nine Top 10 hits.

They opened with “Oh Well,” a satiny ballad that, like many of their songs, is a lament and expression of regret about a derailed romance: “Since you’ve been gone I’ve been lonely … Maybe there is still a way.”

All three are impressive vocalists, and they share vocal duties liberally within the same song. Wanya Morris is the most dramatic of the three.

Several times he launched into vocal gymnastics, spiraling effortlessly into melismatic outbursts that drew raves from an enthusiastic crowd that included Kansas City Mayor Sly James. Just as Seber promised in his introduction, the three laid down plenty of keen harmonies all night, giving their ’90s new-jack swing a heavy flavoring of ’70s R&B and soul.

Before they sang “On Bended Knee,” one of their biggest hits, Stockman addressed the crowd and drew a connection between the Boyz music and the Symphony, recalling their time in a performing arts school and their appreciation of classical music and how it influenced them: from Mozart to Motown, as he put it.

“Bended Knee” was one of several songs that elicited a loud, warm response, though it took a while for this audience to deliver the kind of demonstrative response Stockman repeatedly encouraged: clap, sing, dance, sway all you want.

The show was split into two sets separated by a 20-minute intermission. The first included favorites like “4 Seasons of Loneliness,” “The Girl in Life Magazine” and “Water Runs Dry.”

After the intermission, the Symphony opened the second set with an orchestral rendition of “Your Home Is In My Heart (Stella’s Love Theme),” then the Boyz returned and delivered one of the best moments of the night, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

Their songs are typically midtempo, even hypnotic, which might explain why the crowd at times seemed lulled into a trance or a state of happy mellowness.

The second set included two covers: Journey’s “Open Arms,” then the Commodores’ “Easy,” which featured Nathan Morris on lead vocals and piano and which did justice to the Commodores’ version, thanks to the dandy trumpet solo by Julian Kaplan that replaced the guitar solo in the original.

The mood got overtly libidinous during “I’ll Make Love To You,” a satiny ballad with the kind of lyrics Barry White used to favor. During that song, the three handed and tossed roses to women in the front rows and even to a few up in the lowest balcony.

The mood then turned to something more inspirational, the R&B hymn “A Song for Mama,” their paean to mothers, which drew one of a few standing ovations. From there, they went back to something overtly sexual, “So Amazing,” a ballad about physical and romantic pleasure.

After that, the Boyz and Seber took their bows and exited, but they returned quickly for the finale, “End of the Road.” It’s another romance/breakup song but it also delivered a larger message, about appreciating what you love or have loved, even if it goes away, which is pretty much the reaction this big crowd gave the Boyz and their music Saturday night.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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