The working title of New Edition’s forthcoming EP says it all: “#AllSix.”
Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill, and Ralph Tresvant are open for business again.
The six singers will bring their sweet harmonies and synchronized steps to the Agganis Arena on Friday, and are excited to be back together singing classic hits like “Candy Girl,” “If It Isn’t Love,” and “N.E. Heartbreak” — as well as hits from the solo and group careers that branched off the New Edition tree — more than 30 years after they sprang from the Orchard Park housing projects in Roxbury.
The seeds for the reunion were planted in late 2011 at the Essence Music Festival, and carried into 2013 as New Edition commemorated its 30th anniversary with a tour that inexcusably bypassed its hometown.
“We were thinking of a way to continue the celebration of our 30 years,” says Bivins on the phone from a rehearsal studio in Atlanta, home to New Edition’s longtime manager, choreographer and “godfather,” Brook Payne.
“We’re all touring individually in our solo careers — BBD, Bobby, Johnny, Ralph — and we thought, let’s just get back together and go test the audience this summer as we gear up for the new campaign that we’re working on,” Bivins says of “#AllSix.”
And this time, DeVoe asserts, Boston “was a prerequisite. We have a loyal following that has been rocking and rolling with us for 31-plus years. And it just feels good to be able to not have a record on the radio or not be part of the mainstream, but to put tickets up for sale and have people come out in droves.”
One person hoping to be part of that crowd is longtime fan and friend Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block, who was thrilled when Bell Biv DeVoe performed their hit “Poison” as surprise guests at last year’s “Boston Strong” concert at the TD Garden to benefit Marathon bombing victims.
“It was huge for us for them to be there,” says Wahlberg, who helped to organize the event. “One of the first conversations I had about doing something after the bombings was with Mike Bivins. He was relentless in not giving up in wanting to be a part of it.”
Although only DeVoe still has a home in Boston — most of the other members live in Los Angeles — this is still “home” for most in terms of family and holidays. Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe say playing “Boston Strong” was an important milestone.
“It was amazing. There was no way that concert was being put on and we weren’t touching that thing, being from Boston and the passion that we have for our city,” says DeVoe. “To see the city rally behind all of the victims and to be on the stage that night, and to see all of the different celebrities that lent their time and their energy and effort to such a worthy cause — it was incredible.”
In addition to new music, the group’s plans for the next few years include a photo retrospective/memoir and a film. They are currently in negotiations with a studio for what likely will be a multipart TV miniseries.
“It’s the life story of New Edition from the time we met each other in Boston in the projects of Roxbury, how we formed the group, and where we are today,” says Bell. “All the trials and tribulations and ups and downs,” adds DeVoe.
The members already have some casting ideas. “It’s going to be between Omar Epps and Morris Chestnut, they’re fighting over the part,” says Gill with a chuckle. “I think Bobby said he wanted to snatch up Idris Elba to play him in the older years. I think for myself we’re probably going to go with Lil Bow Wow,” says DeVoe, answering with his own laugh.
But before they can start calling shots on the set, they have shows to play. Asked if the choreography is proving a challenge as they get older, Gill quips, “No, because I take Advil in the morning.”
As for the set itself, the singers will be performing all their hits and then offering passages from the splinter factions — Gill, Brown, and Tresvant’s solo material and the Bell Biv DeVoe new jack swing jams — before reassembling into NE.
Don’t expect to hear any new material yet, as the group is still in the process of finding, writing, and recording songs for “#AllSix,” whose release date is to be determined. But Bivins promises that the new songs will have “lyrics grown men can stand by, and our grown women audience can appreciate.”
An observation that all the performers appear to be getting along draws a hearty laugh, and Gill jokingly asks, “Just today? At this hour? Yes.” But their own gentle ribbing and Payne’s reports that they are in a good place make the point. All say that Brown, who has had his share of well-documented troubles, is well and working hard. (Brown also recently announced a new line of barbecue sauces. The group reports his best dish is “Shrimp a la Bobby” — “a mixture of everything, and it’s seriously good,” says Gill.)
That kind of positivity, Wahlberg insists, is all New Edition needs now. “In my experience with reforming my band,” he says, “we were determined, and we believed we understood where we belonged: playing arenas and touring consistently, and that it was valid and there was a market for it. And I think they just have to believe that, and I think that’s what they’re doing now. With all those records and all those individual [careers], they should be able to collectively tour as long as they want and it’s up to them to believe it.”
It sounds like they do. “We’re always striving,” says DeVoe. “I think we’ve learned from our mistakes, and we’re really opening this thing up and it’s not going to stop here.”
“We have those ‘We wanna do good’ nerves, and those butterflies when you get your microphone handed to you,” says Bivins of pre-tour jitters. “But you know those steps that you take up to get to the stage? I think as soon as our feet hit the steps and we give Brook a high five, it’s on and poppin’. ”