by Alan Sculley
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK with TLC, Nelly 7 p.m. Friday, June 5 | Amway Center, 400 W. Church St. | 407-440-7000 | amwaycenter.com | $28-$89.50
For New Kids on the Block’s fourth full-fledged American tour since reuniting in 2007, the group that brought boy bands back into the pop mainstream in the late 1980s and early 1990s – and became massively popular in the process – has thrown a curveball to its fans with two less-than-obvious choices for their multi-generation teenybopper crowd with opening acts TLC and Nelly.
New Kids member Joe McIntyre readily admits the tour package could be considered a risk, possibly alienating the boy band fans. But in a way, the tour also works as a reminder of the very earliest days of the group.
“Certainly the New Kids came from an R&B background,” McIntyre explains. “Before we became this huge pop phenomenon, we were performing for only black audiences at home (Boston) and winning them over because music really doesn’t have a color. You either have it or you don’t, and we had it. I mean, you could talk about that for a while. We played the Apollo (in Harlem, New York) back in ’88 and got a standing ovation. It’s really what you bring to the table, and we’ve always infused the music that we grew up with, hip-hop and R&B, into our pop music. So that’s genuinely part of who we are. But from a distance, yeah, it’s not the (expected) boy band (tour) package, and it’s been nice.”
“It’s definitely off the beaten path,” he says.
The summer tour is quite the production from what McIntosh says, as the group has created an in-the-round show that brings the five singers – McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Jordan Knight and Jonathan Knight – up close and personal to the audience, and features a hit-laden set list and plenty of visual bells and whistles.
“Well, start with the stage that spans the whole arena,” McIntyre says. “I’ve got to be honest, when I first saw it, I was kind of frustrated because I was like this thing is way too big. I knew I needed to take time to get used to it. Now I [like it], and luckily there are five of us and we do a good job of touching the audience. Because the stage is so big, we get to get closer and closer to the audience. I didn’t know how it was going to work out. But the consensus is overwhelming that people really love this show.”
The second phase in the career of New Kids on the Block has been another hit. Reconvening after a 13-year break in 2007, the group released an album of new original material, The Block, in 2008 and then followed that in 2013 with a second post-reunion album, 10.
To the surprise of many, New Kids on the Block proved to have staying power. The group still fills arenas, and crowds were as frenzied as the teen and pre-teen girls that screamed their way though the shows of the ’80s and ’90s.
In its first go-around, from 1984 to 1994, the New Kids sold a combined 80 million copies of their four albums worldwide, with 1988’s Hangin’ Tough and 1990’s Step By Step leading the way.
After breaking up in 1994, the five group members moved on to other projects, enjoying varying levels of success. Wahlberg was probably the most visible former New Kid, as he earned considerable acclaim for acting roles in high-profile films as Ransom and The Sixth Sense. More recently he has starred in the CBS television drama Blue Bloods and become a major presence in reality TV with the shows Wahlburgers and Donnie Loves Jenny (also featuring his new wife, Jenny McCarthy).
McIntyre also was busy during the years that New Kids was not together. He did a string of solo albums and also had considerable success in theater. His roles included playing the male lead, Fiyero, in the hit Broadway musical Wicked, and Fonzie in the Broadway musical adaptation of the TV series Happy Days. Most recently, he was featured in the CBS comedy, The McCarthys, although that show has since been canceled.
Now McIntyre is savoring having the New Kids back in his life. Looking back, McIntyre feels breaking up the group in 1994 and moving on from the whirlwind that life became was valuable for each of the singers and helped set the foundation for a solid reunion.
“We needed to get away and do different stuff,” McIntyre says. “Whether they were in the music business or acting or climbing a mountain or taking a class or building a house, whatever it was, we went ahead and had that time. And I think that was important for us as people. … There was an immense amount of love for what we had back in the day. So when we decided to come back together, we were ready.”