BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
LAS VEGAS – It’s two hours before showtime when Robin Meade arrives backstage at the Sands Showroom at the Venetian.
Everything around her is tiny – the suitcase she’s hauling, her waistline, the dressing room she’s entering that consists of a chair, flat-screen TV and arrangement of flowers.
But two of the things that make her such a success on HLN’s “Morning Express,” her smile and personality, are big – very big – as she prepares to do a sound check with the crackerjack band on stage and the four charming Australian guys in their own (slightly larger) dressing room a few steps away.
Meade is preparing for her second performance with Human Nature , the vocal group renowned for its “Smokey Robinson Presents Human Nature: The Motown Show” that has played Las Vegas since 2009 – first at Imperial Palace and, since January 2013, at the Venetian in the same real estate that once housed the Sands Hotel and the legendary Rat Pack.
Several months ago, Human Nature – Andrew and Michael Tierney, Toby Allen and Phil Burton – invited Meade, who has two albums on her resume, to sing with them in their first-ever Christmas outing for 11 performances between Dec. 12 and Dec. 24. She also guests on “Sleigh Ride” on the group’s “Human Nature: The Christmas Album.”
During the live show, it’s one of five songs Meade performs with the guys, along with a seven-piece band and the Bella Electric Strings quartet.
Singing in front of concertgoers in a 742-seat showroom doesn’t faze Meade, who is as natural on stage as she is in front of the camera. She’s eager to run through some of her songs during sound check, a ritual that Human Nature still engages in before every performance, and is especially excited about bringing a souped-up version of “Run Rudolph Run” to the evening.
“When I heard Kelly Clarkson’s version of the song, I thought it would be a nice change of pace in the show,” Meade said, sitting in the mostly empty theater before showtime in jeans and a T-shirt.
Soon, though, she will scoot backstage to transform into a Vegas performer – her hair a bit bigger, her clothes with a bit more sparkle and fringe – and wait for her cue to hit the stage nine numbers into the 21-song, 90-minute set.
While Human Nature has, obviously, shifted the focus of its presentation to a holiday theme – lighted trees flank the stage, snowflakes dangle from the ceiling and hi-res video panels shine footage of cutesy-hokey Christmassy things – it also gives the audience a hefty dose of its well-regarded Motown revue.
Its a cappella work is outstanding on “Winter Wonderland” and the Tierney brothers harmonize angelically on the melancholy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
But the group, in tuxes and red bow ties, brightens on its perfectly-timed versions of “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” staples from its usual gig.
When Meade arrives for “Sleigh Ride" (see video below), the audience hollers in appreciative recognition, and she glides through the song – in her self-bedazzled coat –fairly comfortably, considering it’s only her second show with the guys.
Meade’s instincts to inject some Chuck Berry-styled grit into the concert with her spirited “Run Rudolph Run” were absolutely correct as she playfully vamps during the song. Another change of pace arrives as she hops atop a piano for the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” a fitting choice for someone whose TV show motto is “Morning Sunshine!”, a phrase she attributes to her dad.
But it’s her duet with Allen, the molasses-voiced bass singer of Human Nature, that is a highlight as the twosome trade verses, twirl around the stage and head into the audience for some close-up interaction (Meade’s CNN comrade Nancy Grace gets an amusing shout-out).
It’s obvious that Meade, who returns to her day job Dec. 29, thrives in her other element in front of a crowd larger than those at her regular sold-out appearances at Eddie’s Attic , but not quite the size of, say, Lakewood Amphitheatre, where she’s sung with Kenny Chesney.
A few minutes after taking their bows, Meade and Human Nature venture into the lobby of the showroom to sign autographs and greet fans, Meade shaking hands and beaming, as much a pro in Vegas as she is in Atlanta.
Human Nature’s “Christmas, Motown, and More” with Robin Meade will continue at 7 p.m. Dec. 19-23 and 1 p.m. Dec. 24 at the Sands Showroom at the Venetian Las Vegas. Tickets are $49-$140. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.humannaturelive.com or www.venetian.com or call 1-702-414-9000. Check out some highlights of her performance:
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