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July 14, 2011

REVIEW - Harmonies From Outer Space

New York Times (NY):

There was a time when a cappella was one of music’s best-kept secrets. Relatively few people were aware of just how sophisticated the genre had become or how many sounds the best a cappella singers could draw on: not just standard notes, but vocal percussion, orchestral imitation and more.

But groups like Rockapella and Boyz II Men broke through into the mainstream, and then in 2009 NBC introduced “The Sing-Off,” a reality competition featuring a cappella groups. That exposure costs “Voca People,” a wacky new stage show at the Westside Theater featuring eight a cappellaing space aliens, the element of surprise. Probably not many people in the audience will be startled at how good much of this music sounds. So a barely-there plot and some audience-participation bits have to carry more of the entertainment burden than they should. The result: You leave the theater feeling entertained yet a little deprived as well.

The extraterrestrials, all dressed in white, have crash-landed on Earth in a spaceship powered by music, and so to get the thing aloft they have to tap into the songs of this strange land. In a funny segment they empty the contents of an audience member’s brain, and suddenly they’re able to deliver an entire history of the planet’s music in a dizzying, genre-straddling medley.

It takes a while — too long really — for these aliens to get out of excerpt mode and actually deliver a few full-length songs, but when they do, one in particular is simply great. It’s the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” with Chelsey Keding on lead. Hearing it, you realize that this song was always meant to be delivered by beings from outer space.

A few more such knockout moments would elevate this show, created by Lior Kalfo and Shai Fishman, from amusing curiosity to memorable summer discovery. So would a more elaborate story; the sketchiness of the refuel-and-leave conceit feels like a missed opportunity. But the forays into the audience are a nice touch; not many theatergoers can say they’ve had a singing space alien lying across their laps.

Posted by acapnews at July 14, 2011 10:32 PM

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