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Mary J. Blige; Usher

With his pants falling down just enough to keep the young women screaming for another peek at his well-toned bod, baby-faced Usher stole the show from Mary J. Blige with a potent blend of musical diversity, showmanship and just plain old fun.

Cast:
Bands: (Blige) Lanar Brantley, Luke Austin, Loren Dawson, Jeff Motley, Michael Clemons, Chantell Jones, Dustin Adams, Joya Owens, Michelle Matlock; (Usher) Ralph Hawkins, Timbali, Alex Evans, Stan Jones, Wizard, Tommy and Derek Organ.

With his pants falling down just enough to keep the young women screaming for another peek at his well-toned bod, baby-faced Usher stole the show from Mary J. Blige with a potent blend of musical diversity, showmanship and just plain old fun.

Usher, only 19 and far from his peak, possesses a deep, rich voice that translates well in a live setting, regard-less of whether he’s crooning or rapping. Focused on material from his debut disc, the “Star Search” winner provided a highly theatrical spectacle, borrowing liberally from the steps of Michael Jackson.

He seemed to relish the sexier numbers, seducing the audience with charisma to spare, but even his dimples couldn’t compensate for his eventually annoying onstage mantra: Are you with me, ladies?

By contrast, Blige’s performance came across as anemic, the exception being a hauntingly lovely rendition of “Seven Days” from her latest album, “Share My World.” She, too, gears her show at the females, but fails to capture any of the excitement of her recorded self. Perhaps all the costume changes wore her out.

Usher and Blige will perform Saturday and Sunday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, before heading to the West Coast to play the Universal Amphitheatre April 9 and 10.

Mary J. Blige; Usher

R&B; Arie Crown Theatre, Chicago; 4,249 capacity; $45.75 top

Production: Presented by H.E.I. Bands: (Blige) Lanar Brantley, Luke Austin, Loren Dawson, Jeff Motley, Michael Clemons, Chantell Jones, Dustin Adams, Joya Owens, Michelle Matlock; (Usher) Ralph Hawkins, Timbali, Alex Evans, Stan Jones, Wizard, Tommy and Derek Organ. Reviewed March 27, 1998.

With: Bands: (Blige) Lanar Brantley, Luke Austin, Loren Dawson, Jeff Motley, Michael Clemons, Chantell Jones, Dustin Adams, Joya Owens, Michelle Matlock; (Usher) Ralph Hawkins, Timbali, Alex Evans, Stan Jones, Wizard, Tommy and Derek Organ.With his pants falling down just enough to keep the young women screaming for another peek at his well-toned bod, baby-faced Usher stole the show from Mary J. Blige with a potent blend of musical diversity, showmanship and just plain old fun.

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