Rampella on ROCKAPELLA Theater Review
Fans of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s pop music are likely to enjoy Rockapella’s easy going show at the Laguna Playhouse. The group’s name, but of course, is a mashup of the words “rock” and “a cappella”, and as this suggests, the group’s only musical instruments are the human voice (amplified by microphones). And, in the case of beatboxer Jeff Thacher - who belts percussive beats out with panache, like a musical Michael Winslow (the “Motor Mouth” of the Police Academy flicks) - perhaps superhuman, as it’s hard to believe that mere homo sapiens could utter such sounds. Furthermore, the only thing lower than basso profondo Ryan Chappelle’s crooning is yet another Donald Trump insult.
Rockapella’s less than two hour show (they don’t exactly Rockapella around the clock - although they do give voice to the Bill Haley song) with one intermission is basically a performance - not a play strung together by using artists’ songs, such as the Abba-oriented Mama Mia! or Queen musical We Will Rock You. The clean cut quintet’s rockin’ repertoire ranges from Sam Cooke (“Cupid”) to Elvis (“Jailhouse Rock”) to The Drifters (“Up On The Roof”) to the Rolling Stones (“Satisfaction”) and beyond. There are some sort of nondescript graphics projected on a screen behind the singers, but this adds nothing to their act - the Fillmore East’s lightshow it ain’t. Rather, most of the show is the group’s vocalizing - along with some kitschy kibitzing, occasional footloose footwork and audience participation. At one point Rockapella plucks a Cinderella from the seats, briefly turning the theatergoer into rock royalty.
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Rockapella’s renditions of arrangements can be idiosyncratic and full of their own stylizations as they make (or remake) the tunes their own. For example, the vocalists cleverly combine The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” with John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Their lighthearted show’s humor is most apparent in Act II (such as it is), when Rockapella good-naturedly mocks themselves for selling out to corporate America. The band does a medley of the jingles they’ve performed in various commercials and at sundry corporate events. But of course, the instrument-less quintet - which also includes high tenor Scott Leonard and tenors Calvin Jones and Steven Dorian - render what may be their biggest hit: “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?”, from the PBS children’s TV program.
Andy Williams finds his way into Rockapella’s songbook, as they perform - what else? - “Moon River.” Some may find these crowd pleasers to be schmaltzy, although most of Laguna Playhouse’s nearly sold out, tootsie tapping aud evinced a severe case of - to coin a phrase - “Rockapella-mania.” Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! As they say in Hawaii, it’s “good fun.” Of course, after the really big show, the crooners hawk and sign their CDs for fans in the theater’s lobby. And with ticket prices starting at $50, you might have to be a Rockefeller to afford to see - and hear - Rockapella.
Rockapella is playing Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., plus Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and Sundays at 1:00 p.m., through August 28 at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. For more info: (949) 497-2787; www.LagunaPlayhouse.com. A return engagement of the popular Menopause the Musical opens August 31.
L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell is a contributor to the new book “Conversations With W.S. Merwin”, the former U.S. Poet Laureate, and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book" (see: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/).