Generations of Boyz II Men fans filed into Davies Symphony Hall, the home of the San Francisco Symphony, in suits, ties and skirts; the brightly lit space bustled with music fans ready for a remixed set unlike any other.
On April 1 and 2, Grammy Award-winning R&B acapella group Boyz II Men joined forces with conductor Edwin Outwater and the rest of the San Francisco Symphony for two nights of melodically intertwined serenading.
Boyz II Men, composed of baritone Nathan Morris and tenors Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman, are undoubtedly seasoned performers after three decades of fame. The three entered to smatterings of applause after Outwater marched on stage and each velvet suit-donning, sunglasses-wearing member soberly took position behind a microphone stand.
The lights fell, instruments tuned, the crowd cheered and the Boyz began their set in incredible harmony. Each singer was encased in their own lyrical world, seamlessly trading the lead and supporting their lilting vocals. The symphony did not often take center stage, seeking to simply bolster Boyz II Men’s melodies.
At the beginning of the set, the melding between the symphony and the men seemed half-hearted at best. However, the energy quickly picked up throughout the night, with the symphony’s emphasis on romantic strings and energetic wind instruments finding its groove, adding complementary tonal shifts with Outwater’s well-timed crescendos and diminuendos.
“4 Seasons of Loneliness” was the first standout performance of the evening, with Wanya and Nathan Morris grooving and gliding to the symphony’s heart-pulling strings. The three performers did not interact very much with each other, instead expressing their joint feeling through song as the three lamented “days gone by.”
Stockman interacted most with the enraptured crowd, ensuring that they were indeed having a great time and commenting on the novelty of performing with a symphony again after many strictly commercial music appearances. As Stockman narrated, Wanya Morris waved to the audience seated behind the orchestra, smiling and basking in the product of decades of smash hits.
After a brief intermission, the group reentered, reinvigorated. Each vocalist had a moment to shine during their first song, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” with Wanya Morris’ miraculous ability to hold notes into perpetuity prompting the crowd to their feet. The singers continued to be the stars of the night as the second half of their set transitioned to a slew of covers.
After Stockton told the crowd that “most songs are made for dancing,” people stayed on their feet, swaying and soaking in the Boyz’ welcoming vitality. There was not a face without a smile gracing it, even in the symphony itself.
Nathan Morris made his way to the piano for a couple of tunes, while Stockton had a guitar solo to himself when his group members filed off stage. The overwhelming appreciation each vocalist has for the others is undeniable; Wanya Morris continually thanked his group for “expanding the Boyz’ horizons” with instrumentals as they crooned classics like “Easy (Like Sunday Morning)” and “Wonderful Tonight.”
Once Wanya and Nathan Morris joined Stockton back on stage, Stockton warned the male members of the audience that “this one is for the ladies.” As the violinists drew their bows, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z women squealed and sprinted for the stage. The Boyz expected this reaction to their smash hit “I’ll Make Love To You” and reached for bouquets of roses laid on stage, individually handing them to their admirers — proving that boy band fame never dissipates.
The last song of the night, rightfully, was “End Of the Road,” uniting the audience, symphony and vocalists one last time. Each singer uplifted the others as strings, flutes and drums launched the lyrics of the song higher and higher until the three Boyz powerfully poured their hearts out. As their last note rang out, the trio uttered a final “thank you” before bowing in unison, gesturing toward the symphony and exiting to a standing ovation from all.