John Katsilometes

[The Kats Report]

Human Nature lights up its ‘Jukebox’ for a revamped Venetian production

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More than Motown: Human Nature took the tough road of creative expansion with Jukebox.
Photo: Steve Marcus

One of Human Nature’s most impressive performances was one staged away from its home on the Strip. It was on a Sunday afternoon in January, at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. The four mates from Australia, known for the past several years as Las Vegas headliners who perform a Motown show at the Venetian, were in for a challenge.

The audience that day was not comprised of ebullient fans who filed into the Sands Showroom ready to groove to The Temptations and Smokey Robinson. No, this was a comparably demure crew, much of it Phoenix Symphony season subscribers. Not to paint the entire audience with a broad brush, but this was a crowd of a certain age, satisfied to observe.

After 25 years together, though, Human Nature knows how to win over a crowd. Summoning songs to be used in their new show at Venetian, Human Nature cut loose with “Dancing in the Streets,” “Dance to the Music” and a Beatles medley featuring “Got to Get You Into My Life.” As they charged into “Reach Out I’ll Be There” that crowd was up, swaying and waving its arms.

Count it as another road victory for Human Nature, which has unveiled its show Jukebox, loaded with sing- and dance-along hits dating to the 1950s. To borrow two clichés, this is both a labor of love and a leap of faith for the gentlemen who arrived on the Strip in 2009, brothers Andrew and Mike Tierney, Phil Burton and Toby Allen.

“This is our jukebox, the music that we have been inspired by,” Andrew Tierney says during a break in rehearsals at the newly redesigned Sands Showroom, where a vintage-style jukebox takes up center stage. “We needed to go in a different direction. It was not a business decision—some people say we’re stupid for giving up a successful show—but we wanted to creatively branch out.”

So the strict Motown theme and design of the show has been put away in favor of a new set of songs and a new set onstage. Being performed in this preview period (the show’s formal premiere is April 21) are such classics as, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Stand by Me,” “Unchained Melody” “Under the Boardwalk” and The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” in a medley also featuring the Bee Gees and Beach Boys. More contemporarily, the guys have added the Mark Ronson-Bruno Mars instant classic, “Uptown Funk,” “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor, “Sorry” by Justin Bieber and “Hotline Bling” by Drake. And for audience participation, “YMCA” is resurrected.

Other additions to the show are dancers Jami Jones and David Oliveri, from Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas. The band has been overhauled, too, under the title Jukebox All-Stars. Sum it up as a way for Human Nature to breathe. In Las Vegas, the guys had been performing a variation of the Motown show, endorsed by Robinson himself, since the spring of 2009, when it debuted at Imperial Palace. But the history of the production dates back to about 2006, when Human Nature released an album of Motown hits that hit the spot for their own fans in Australia and, eventually, those who would visit Vegas.

“Motown was our jukebox,” Burton says. “That’s how the Motown show was born. We learned these songs and they went over really well, especially for Vegas, and we had the luxury to refine it over the past 10 years. But the Motown show that we ended with here at the Venetian was seven or eight years in the making.”

Human Nature had decided last year to revamp its format. Concurrently, the executive lineup at Venetian/Palazzo changed, and the new officials were ready to switch up the resort’s entertainment lineup completely. Frank: The Man, the Music was closed at Palazzo (making way for Baz: Star Crossed Love, opening in June) and Rock of Ages moved to the Rio, as the all-women comedy show Lipshtick moved in.

It was widely expected that Human Nature, too, would end its run and leave Venetian (Harrah’s was actually specified in published reports as the confirmed new home). But producer Adam Steck of SPI Entertainment worked with the group to present an alternative to the Motown show. The hotel brass liked it, and today Human Nature anchors the venue with a new tenant, Puppet Up: Uncensored, coming into the room’s 9 p.m. slot in July.

“We had to plan A, B, C and D for what we wanted to do,” Andrew Tierney says. “We had casinos interested, but casinos might be interested in you and the numbers don’t work out. But for us, every plan had us doing a different show.”

Human Nature even considered moving out of Las Vegas altogether before announcing Jukebox and a three-year contract with the Venetian. “If nobody wanted the new show, we had considered returning to Australia or going around the world for a year,” Allen says. “We could have filled our time that way. But our ‘A’ choice was to do Jukebox, in this room, and it has worked out for everyone.”

Human Nature Jukebox Tuesday-Saturday, 7 p.m., $66-$121. Venetian, 702-414-9000.

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