The enjoyable ‘Voca People’ invade off-Broadway

The first lights to shine on the small stage of the Westside Theatre in midtown Manhattan are colored blue. But don’t get confused: This is not Blue Man Group. These are the Voca People, eight a cappella singers who make their way through a vast songbook in less than 90 minutes. Their harmonic efforts are inspired, and the show is enjoyable, even if it’s terminally fleeting.

The loose storyline strings together a tale of eight white-colored aliens who crash land in New York City. They are in need of musical energy to reignite their spaceship and head back to their home planet.

"Voca People" — Photo courtesy of Leon Sokoletski

That’s where the audience comes into play. Be forewarned: Sitting in the front row or on the aisle may inadvertently make you the ninth member of the Voca People. These aliens like to have close encounters of the third kind.

The singers use willing (and sometimes unwilling) audience members to help extract the energy. The songs that materialize from their efforts are varied, from classical tunes to top-20 hits that are playing on the radio right now.

There’s doo-wop and some rap, plus a couple rock numbers and even theme songs from famous movies. The Voca People have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal.

Each alien has a distinct voice, from bass to alto to soprano. Two of the more skilled performers are beatboxers (Tiago Grade and Mercer Boffey) who serve as semi-hosts for the night and keep the rhythms thump, thump, thumping. Their efforts are a marvel to behold. The showdown between the two performers is the well-earned climax of the evening.

The arrangements by Shai Fishman are creative. He’s able to jump from one song to another with evident ease. His mash-up of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Bicycle” is the highlight of the night.

Still, even with all of this infectious talent on display, Voca People is a little strained for content.

At times, the show feels like an extended YouTube clip (no surprise there, being that the Voca People are an Internet phenomenon – click here to be amazed). The alien plot falls behind the obvious skills of the singers, and the entire conceit for the show doesn’t add up to much. It would almost be more enjoyable if the a cappella singers simply came to the center of the stage and started to sing.

Creator/director Lior Kalfo should be commended for the originality of the concept, but the execution is a little much.

But it’s hard to stay upset with this show for too long. It’s the definition of enjoyment.

With only a few exceptions, Voca People is a family-friendly show that will tickle most audience members pink. It achieves an undeniable charm, so much so that by the end of the 90 minutes, you’re buying into the paper-thin plot and thinking you’ve just watched a performance by a group of extra-terrestrials.

Yes, I was clapping for the aliens to stay on planet Earth, too.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Voca People

  • Created and directed by Lior Kalfo

  • Musical direction and arrangements by Shai Fishman

  • Starring Ryan Alexander, Mercer Boffe, Laura Dadap, Emily Drennan, Tiago Grade, Chelsey Keding, Jermaine Miles, Christine Paterson, Gavriel Savit and Jonathan Shew

  • Playing at the Westside Theatre Upstairs at 407 W. 43rd St. in New York City

  • Click here for more information. Tickets are $30-$79.50, with discounts available.

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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