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Danny Groner

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Voca People: Music from a Foreign Land

Posted: 09/07/11 01:07 PM ET

It seems like more and more theater is gunning for the "You have to see it to understand" category. Voca People had that sort of promise. From the bit I'd read about the unique a capella show, I hoped that it would be a night to remember, and a performance I'd hopefully wind up struggling to explain to others. Yet, while the music, miming, and mischief of the show was entertaining, it fell short of being an a capella sensation.

In some ways, Voca People couldn't have hit at a better time. The recent explosion of interest in a capella, glee clubs, and singing groups has America humming its tune. But along the way those other renditions have also upped the ante. Collectively, we expect more now from a capella medleys, having been exposed to more of them on TV and on YouTube. The sheer act of orchestrating a complicated song and dance without the assistance of instruments is not enough to enthrall us anymore.

And that's a way that Voca People could have thrived. After an early medley of the evolution of music that touches on everything from classical, to rock, to classic rock, the singers soon echo that performance with a similar one showcasing the music from famous movies of the past. While equally impressive, the second song wasn't nearly as essential to be included in this compact 90-minute show.

One of my favorite parts happens early on in the show when the eight singers each introduce themselves to the audience using their singing voices to illustrate their place in the group. They're each intended to sound differentl from each other, taking on the roles of aliens who have landed from outer space who must sing together to find their way back home. It's during these introductions to characters like "alto" and "soprano" that you recognize the intricacies of a capella. After all, those more traditional-sounding voices have to blend in with the more up-tempo beatboxer and "scratcher."

It's no wonder that over time the more modern sounds take center stage. What's most remarkable, though, is how they blend with the altos and sopranos and mezzos as a cohesive unit that together frames and forms sweet melodies. It's the dynamics of these different sounds that intrigued me most of all, with the characters representing the tunes they sang.

Seeing them roam around and interact with each other would have meant so much more had we had a section in the early parts of the show dedicated to showing the audience which sounds belong together and which ones are cacophonous. A brief music tutorial would have lent itself well to the show and its overall mission of delivering music with a side of comic relief.

 

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