Las Vegas Looks Really Good On New Edition
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Las Vegas Looks Really Good On New Edition

The group spent a year refining their show on tour last year. The results are a perfect NE performance for casuals and die hards.

The end of New Edition’s Las Vegas set is the storybook ending they deserve. Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph, and Johnny, hands raised triumphantly after performing a rendition of Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” (the group use the Gen X classic to nod to their formation on September 9th, 1978), are real deal happy. In the background, their New Edition Hollywood star is plastered on the jumbo screen. 

This is the cleanest I’ve seen the five Bostonians and their sixth member Johnny Gill since their 2017 BET Awards performance where the cast of the biopic performed “If It Isn’t Love” in unison with the sextet. The choreography that night was cheddar sharp. Between Brooke Payne’s classic choreography and former BET President Stephen Hill’s ambitious television tentpole mind, the collective delivered a dance moment that, frankly, doesn't get the reverence it deserves.

Tonight, as NE celebrates 40-plus years of rhythm and blues, all members are in performing shape, including Bobby. Ralph is the cool leading man, still slinky, still debonair. He doesn’t have the high-pitch from those early albums (Candy Girl and the self-titled New Edition), but his lower octave still delivers on “Candy Girl.” Bobby’s limitations have been repositioned as strengths. When he takes lines off on songs like “Every Little Step” and “My Prerogative” the audience happily fill those blanks.

Ricky, Ronnie, and Mike are the consummate team players and the most crucial members of the production—perhaps they always were. They’re narrators, transition specialists, background dancers and singers, and, of course, the three-man group Bell Biv DeVoe.

Lastly, and a bit of an outlier, is Johnny Gill. JG, the only batchelor in the group, has morphed into an alpha in Vegas. He’s stepped into his instrument, adding rambunctious runs. His crashing crooning is giving Baptist church revival. And he closes “Can You Stand The Rain” with power pipes that extend the song. When did Gill become such a ham? We love this for him!

Original crew Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, and Ralph. (Getty Images) Getty Images

New Edition’s tour last year was bloated in the best way possible. It allowed superfans to experience deep cuts like “My Secret (Didja Get it Yet), “Boys to Men”, and “Word to the Mutha”. The Vegas set list is lean and runs like a Broadway play. The first act runs through the bubblegum era where the songs are familiar and fulfilling like comfort food. There’s magic happening on the syrup-sweet teenage breakup ballad “Is This the End”. Ralph nails it. But there’s something lovely happening with Ricky's voice. It starts with this record and carries through the show. His mic, as the kids say, is on. He decimates BBD’s “When Will I See Your Smile” and is the most valuable voice on “I’m Still in Love With You.” 

Related: The Seven Members of New Edition, Ranked

The second act—a short exploration of the NE Heartbreak era—is highlighted by the beginning of Bobby’s reign. “Don’t Be Cruel” is a missile and a not so gentle reminder that the group’s bad boy is armed with outsized hits. His scratchy baritone is stable and he’s got the endurance to deliver on all his hits with Ronnie stepping in for rap duty.

The solo act portion of the show gives Ralph some me time with the audience. He’s slow and sensual on “Sensitivity”. The women eat it up. This is really Johnny’s moment, though. Gill has always been respectful as the sixth member, careful to not overstep or grandstand with his God-given vocal ability. On this stage, on this night, Johnny sidesteps modesty and lets it rip. The crooner takes “My, My, My” to church with his signature machine gun runs that enhance an already beautiful record.

A 63-year old woman who's been two-stepping for a majority of the two-hour show, turns to her friend and says “they were really on tonight.” She’s seen the group over a dozen times, she estimates, which explains her comfortable tennis shoes and white sleeveless blouse mashup. 

I’m not sure the show’s success is an indicator of them being on because these consummate professionals are never phoning it in. What gives this Vegas show its lift is its intimacy. The size of the Encore theater makes you feel like you’re in a comfy living room with family; no plastic on the sofas . There’s no pretentiousness or overly-produced Vegas flashing lights. The catalog is the fireworks. Lyrics explode from their mic and turns the venue into karaoke because their people, both men and women, know their material no matter what era of the NE cannon is being explored. 

Before curtains were raised Brook Payne had a few requests: “The show will not start until everyone is standing. And all we’re asking you to do is have a good time.” If that’s not family welcoming you to get comfortable in their space I don’t know what is. A time was indeed had.