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April 17, 2014

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Human Nature branches out for the holidays with snow in the desert

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Sam Morris

Smokey Robinson and Human Nature joke around Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, at the Venetian Showroom.

Human Nature Grand Opening Red Carpet at The Venetian

The grand opening of Launch slideshow »

Smokey Robinson With Human Nature

Smokey Robinson and members of the Motown revue Human Nature , from left, Michael Tierney, Phil Burton, Andrew Tierney and Toby Allen pose for a public relations photo shoot Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Smokey Robinson and members of Human Nature, from left, Toby Allen, Michael Tierney and Andrew Tierney, on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, at the Venetian Showroom.

Human Nature has chiseled out a distinctive niche in Las Vegas for its three-pronged image: Strip headliners who are from Australia who sing the hits of Motown.

It’s a formula that has proven a winner, as the four Aussies have been one of the city’s most popular acts since opening four years ago at the since-renamed Imperial Palace (today’s Quad) and moving to the slickly appointed Sands Showroom at the Venetian.

Given its proven recipe for success, Human Nature could simply cruise along without developing any new elements or evolution to their act. But as we’ve learned, that is not in their nature.

This week, we got a sneak peek at the latest project from Human Nature, and it’s a real holiday tickler. The guys are featured in a five-minute, stop-action video that hearkens to the Rankin/Bass holiday specials, chiefly “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” Those holiday classics, centered on popular holiday songs and themes, were conceived in the 1960s and are still airing to great response today.

Inspired by those shows, Human Nature is featured in its own stop-action adaptation of “White Christmas” set in the desert outside Las Vegas. The short film was produced by acclaimed film animator Martin Meunier, who has worked on “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” amid many film and video projects.

The clip is colorful, goofy and a clear departure from what Human Nature has represented throughout its career. For those who feel that Human Nature’s Mike Tierney actually looks a lot like a Rankin/Bass character in the old photos and videos played during H.N.’s show at the Venetian, the new video is a real kick. Snow dusts the desert landscape as the guys have found themselves broken down on the outskirts of Vegas, and the ground whitens as they sing.

“Originally the idea was to have four doo-wop Christmas elves singing who were not necessarily ourselves and see where that takes us,” Human Nature co-founder Andrew Tierney says. “What we’ve always liked about the old Rankin and Bass specials is the puppets have personalities, as if they are alive, and they seem more soulful than characters in regular animation.”

The clip is to roll out Saturday in the live show, with the four members of Human Nature singing as the clip plays. This is the same effect used as the guys singe “Tracks of My Tears” to a vintage video of Smokey Robinson. The clip is just one component of a greater effort to gain a presence during the holiday season that is not Human Nature’s usual interpretation of Motown songs.

The group has established its own production company and is releasing its first CD of Christmas songs next week. Fittingly titled “The Christmas Album,” the music will be sold in that CD form at Sands Showroom and also online as an EP on iTunes beginning Nov. 17. They hope that they can develop a full-length TV special from the “White Christmas” clip by the 2014 holiday season, though it isn’t determined yet if the four guys will be specified as Human Nature or just little clay-like fellows who are based on the real thing.

“The idea is to develop a back story for the characters based on us,” Tierney says. “We’re reaching to a younger audience with something that is more stylish without losing our connection with Motown, which we love and which has endorsed us and made us a success here in the States.”

Human Nature has always been something of an all-for-one operation, and each member did agree to blossom in this way during the holiday season. Tierney recalls the greatest life- and career-changing decision yet for the group, which has been a tightly knit operation since the guys were teenagers.

“When we sat down to decide whether or not we wanted to move to Las Vegas, everyone was involved — our families, loved ones, everyone had to be all right with it,” Tierney says. “How it works for us is, if I have an idea that I really like and maybe Toby (Allen) or Phil (Burton) is not on board, we have to listen to each other as to why we have that passion. This is whether it’s a positive or negative feeling. It is a very natural way for us to communicate with each other.”

Tierney stresses that Motown will always be one of the passions for Human Nature. But it is not the only passion.

“We existed outside of Motown years ago,” he says. “We can exist outside of Motown now, at least in this form. We’re just growing out a bit, and we’re all guilty parties in this process. We decided a long time ago that this was going to be a career and not a hobby, and we’re always looking for ways to grow the act and to grow together.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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