There is a reason a cappella is lampooned on comedies like 30 Rock and The Office — because a group of adults chicka-chicka-cha-ing through ABBA’s ”Take a Chance on Me” is just absurd. There are some guitar solos that aren’t meant to be sung and drumbeats that shouldn’t be clucked. Beatboxing and scratching are okay in a song, but not as a song. And after 30 or so minutes, they’re primarily just annoying.
So you can imagine what it’s like to watch the hour-and-a-half-long Off Broadway hit Voca People, which just transferred to New World Stages after a successful run at the Westside Theater. Picture six singers, one beatboxer, and one scratcher dressed head to toe in white with matching face makeup that’s topped with cherry-red lips. Pretend they’re aliens from the friendly planet Voca, where the women sound like Ewoks, the men sound like Carol Kane, and everyone learned English from Charo. Then gawk as they rush through the Western songbook’s greatest hits — backed only, of course, by flashing blue lights and a smoke machine.
Voca People does have a rickety plot about a spaceship fueled by song and a captain with a bad ticker, and it’s chockablock with audience-participation bits (if you think telling a bald man that you like his hair is funny, then your gut will bust). But these are just padding between the tunes — most of which are mashups of 15 or so songs (the brief production covers more than 70 tunes). That’s where Voca People really goes wrong. Many of the vocal arrangements by Shai Fishman (who created the show with director Lior Kalfo) are nicely surprising. Who would have thought the Door’s ”People Are Strange” would meld so well with Sting’s ”Englishman in New York”?
A medley of movie music includes an agreeably silly version of Dick Dale and the Del-tone’s ”Miserlou” (a.k.a. the theme to Pulp Fiction). Singer Nick Anastasia’s voice during ”Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” is like crystal. And I particularly enjoyed Chelsey Keding’s ”My Heart Will Go On” — sung while the rest of the cast links arms to form the bow of a ship. But the fun lasts only seconds in order to accommodate as many other songs as possible. What’s the good of a resounding version of ”Big Spender” when it’s cut short for Aqua’s ”Barbie Girl”?
Someone appears to be laboring under the misapprehension that more songs and more variety will appeal to more people (and more tourists). But you know what happens: When you try to please everyone, you end up abusing their eardrums. C?
(Tickets: telecharge.com or (800) 432-7250)