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VoicePlay Rocks the House at UCPAC in Rahway!

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Its 7:30 pm on February 3, 2017 at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, NJ, where in just 30 minutes from now, VoicePlay — the enormously entertaining five-piece a cappella group which lit up the stage on Season 4 of TV’s The Sing Off —is poised to rock the house!

Inside UCPAC’s “Mainstage” auditorium, we meet Alyssa — a second-grader — who, along with her brother, Aidan, and her parents, Jackie and Michael, traveled from Uniondale, NY so she could experience her “first-ever live concert” with VoicePlay.

Alyssa tells us she likes a cappella groups “because they don’t use any instruments.’ Mom, Jackie, further adds that the family listens to a cappella music “all the time,” notably by tuning in to popular websites “like YouTube and Pandora.”

When questioned about how she feels to be here tonight for her very first live concert with VoicePlay, Alyssa replies, “Very excited!”

Not exactly his first-ever live concert — but, rather, his first-ever live concert at Rahway’s UCPAC— before the show, we also have an opportunity to chat with VoicePlay member Eli Jacobson, who tells us a little bit about the group.

“The three founding members of VoicePlay,” says Eli (pronounced “Ellie”), “are Geoff, Layne, and Earl, who went to middle school together. And in middle school, they were active in music, but it wasn’t until high school that they actually formed the group — 42Five — that would eventually become VoicePlay.”

Revealing that the group members all currently reside in Orlando, FL, Jacobson tells us why that’s an area of the country which is so conducive to a cappella music explaining, “We’re fortunate enough to have the theme parks — Disney and Universal. And since a cappella tends to be pretty ‘modular’— you know, it’s pretty easy to put in different places — we were able to work, making Orlando a hotbed for a cappella which supported the growth of VoicePlay.”

Eli also talks about how the group’s appearances on TV’s The Sing Off additionally helped to support a cappella music when he explains, “Even though The Sing Off was a ‘competition,’ it really was more of a gigantic collaboration” which “helped to put a cappella in the public eye.”

Identifying the a cappella country music group, Home Free, as one of his favorites, Eli exclaims, “We knew Home Free a bit before The Sing Off — and then we did The Sing Off tour with them,” noting, “it’s been really great to see all their success.” Also, in terms of influences, Jacobson cites such acts as Take 6, Boyz II Men, Rockapella, The House Jacks, and Pentatonix.

Known for their on-stage theatrics, we asked Eli how that came to be such a large part of VoicePlay’s live stage show.

“I think it came from us just being silly guys,” he states, “and from wanting to find new ways to let the audience in on what it is to be a cappella performers. I think our show lets the audience in on our personalities — and it gives them something they haven’t seen before — so they can walk away from our show saying, ‘I didn’t know if I was gonna like that, but I really did and I think I’m gonna follow those guys!’”

It’s now 7:45 pm, and as audience members stream into the main auditorium of Rahway’s UCPAC, the first thing many people notice is what a gorgeous theater it is. Soft velvet red draperies hang adorned with gold cords and tassels. A magnificent chandelier hangs from above and the celling designs are bedecked with gold-leaf trim. Even the keystone of the arch above the stage appears just ever-so-slightly off-center, evidence of the hand-craftsmanship which went into the building of this historic performance space.

Completed in 1928, UCPAC was originally designed as both a movie house and a vaudeville theater. The venue was beautifully restored in the 1980s and is now listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, not only boasting an historic 500-pipe organ, but also a wonderful view from every seat in the house.

UCPAC also has one of the friendliest staffs you’ll ever meet. It is led by Executive Director Brian Remo, who can be seen personally meeting and greeting many of the music lovers in the house tonight, welcoming them to the theater, and making them feel right at home.

When the clock finally strikes 8 pm, the lights dim, and Remo takes the stage to introduce tonight’s opening act, The Garden State Sound Quartet — a local four-piece a cappella group — who warms up the crowd of all ages with a cappella arrangements of George Michael’s “Faith” and Billy Joel’s “Keeping the Faith.”

After appreciative applause, Remo introduces the evening’s main attraction: VoicePlay!

Before the audience ever sees the group, an announcement is made that VoicePlay is “entirely vocal in nature” and that “every guitar, every drum, every horn, or otherwise unusual sound” heard tonight “will be created live onstage.”

Then, after being asked to “Say ‘hi’” to VoicePlay’s “sound engineer, Paul,” seated at the board to the rear of the auditorium, the audience is comically instructed not to “speak to him again!”

At this point, the members of VoicePlay — tenor 1 Earl Elkins Jr., tenor 2 Eli Jacobson, baritone Erik Winger, bass Geoff Castellucci, and vocal percussionist Layne Stein — hit the stage running with a rockin’ a cappella version of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” The song morphs into a soulful rendition of The Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” both tunes featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, tight rhythms, and impressive dance steps.

Eli greets the crowd with, “New Jersey! How do you do feel tonight? We are VoicePlay and we came to see…. you!”

Following enthusiastic applause, Eli goes on to tell the crowd, “We’re not a concert. We’re not a recital. We’re a show and we we want you to have as much fun as we do!”

As images of old-fashioned music cassette tapes dance behind them on the screen, Voice Play’s bass singer, Geoff, talks about the group’s arrival in New Jersey, saying, “We’re just a little cold here in NJ, as we left this morning at 6 am from Orlando.” Telling the crowd it’s the group’s “third or fourth time” in the Garden State, Geoff reveals, “We travel a lot. We flew in to Newark Airport and drove from Newark here to Rahway,” jokingly referring to it as “an uneventful trip” on the Jersey Turnpike because every driver here “is so polite.”

Performing their humorous The Sing Off mash-up entitled “Road Trip,” the group acts out getting in the car, changing stations on the radio, and reacting to songs like Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” Enya’s “Sail Away,” Quiet Riot’s “Come on Feel the Noize,” Billy Joel’s “Big Shot,” War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?,” Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree,” and many more. The crowd loves it, showing their appreciation with enthusiastic laughs, claps, and cheers.

As kaleidoscope shapes and colors flash on-screen behind them, VoicePlay performs a stunning a cappella rendition of Twenty One Pilot’s “Ride.” Afterwards, Geoff talks a little bit about UCPAC saying, “This is a great space,” also informing the audience that he, Layne, and Earl have been “singing together since seventh grade.”

Having a little fun with the crowd stating, “We are not a boy band and this next song is not a compilation of boy band songs,” VoicePlay performs a compilation of boy band songs including New Kids on the Block’s “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way,” and NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye.” As they sing One Direction’s “That’s What Makes You Beautiful,” the members of VoicePlay visually demonstrate to the audience how to build a boy band when they are alternately introduced as “The Heart Throb” (Earl), “The Bad Boy” (Eli), “The Old Guy” (Geoff), “The Shy One” (Layne), and “The Guy Who Leaves to Go Solo” (Erik). As heads in the crowd bop to the catchy music, the youngsters in the audience can’t keep still, moving in their seats to the infectious beat, the rich full bass, and the precision vocal harmonies.

After getting the entire audience snapping along to the “Theme from The Pink Panther,” Eli escorts a randomly-chosen member of the audience — New Jersey native Lori — onto the stage where she is serenaded to Nat King Cole’s “If I May” by the group members who treat her to flowers, candy, and even a stuffed monkey in a tuxedo. After which, she gives Eli a well-deserved kiss on the cheek.

Next, Earl is featured in a hilarious video montage with his stuffed monkey which is accompanied by Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” and the guys follow that up with an “A Cappella Top 10” mash up with tunes including The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

Saying, “We’ve been keeping a secret — our secret,” the guys of VoicePlay let the audience in on the fact that, “after the show,” they’d like to invite members of the crowd to a little “meet and greet” out in the lobby. There, they disclose, they will also have cool VoicePlay merchandise available including “albums,” “socks” — which they humorously display — and official VoicePlay “T-shirts.”

At this point, they go on to perform an outstanding a cappella arrangement of The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” created by bass singer Geoff Castellucci, the crowd bouncing along, especially on Geoff’s how-low-can-you-go “Giddy up aa-oom poppa oom poppa mow mow” lyric, which is accompanied by Eli, Layne, and the rest of this ultra-talented vocal band.

Earl impresses the audience when he holds a note for what seems like forever, and then follows that by hitting a low bass note. But Geoff then gets the crowd’s attention when he sings the high note at the end of the song and slides from it all the way down to bottom of his super-low bass-y register.

Behind the group, the screen flashes “Twinkie Break,” and the members of VoicePlay take a short intermission. Afterwards, they return with a fun Disney medley of songs including The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl,” Aladdin’s “A Whole New World,” and The Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” the crowd bopping along to the rhythm, enjoying every note.

Welcoming everyone back, Geoff informs the audience, “We have something from New Jersey in Florida. It’s called Jersey Mike’s Subs,” and then asks, “You have those here?” At this point, the audience applauds and then laughs when Erik interjects suggesting, “Here, it’s just called ‘Mike’s’.”

Moving on to the theme song from TV’s Full House, the guys ask if folks in New Jersey like Broadway, to which the audience excitedly cheers. Then, they’re treated to a captivating a cappella medley of Broadway hits including “Sherry” from Jersey Boys, “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, “All That Jazz” from Chicago, and more, all to inspired applause.

“Who knew Jersey liked Broadway?,” the group wonders aloud.

Moving on to one of many highlights of the evening, VoicePlay performs a moving version of “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway musical, RENT, building the song from the bass and percussion up through the baritone to tenors 1 and 2. With their outstanding arrangement, the singers trade off parts like marathon runners effortlessly passing the baton without breaking stride as they perform vocal gymnastics up and around each other’s parts, supporting one another both vocally and spiritually.

After rousing applause, Eli wanders out into the audience again, this time selecting a member of the crowd — RJ, a father attending tonight’s show with his children — to join him onstage and audition to be the sixth member of VoicePlay. After putting him through all of the paces — which include having him create sound effects, sing, and ultimately dance! — the group makes RJ their newest member, much to the audience’s delight.

Then, Layne impresses the crowd with a percussion solo, imitating the sounds of bass drum, snare, cymbals, and hi-hat — not to mention cool electronic drum sounds — to which the crowd reacts with astonishment and applause.

Erik introduces the next number — a medley of songs featuring vocalizations like “down doobie doo down down” from Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “Tom bo li de say de moi ya, yeah, jambo jumbo” from Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” and “Mmmbop, ba-duba-dop-ba, Du bop, ba duba dop…” from Hansen’s “MmmBop” — and takes his turn in the spotlight leaving the crowd whistling, cheering, and clapping for more from this talented quintet.

Moving on to yet another highlight of the show, the group performs live to an on-screen lead vocal provided by singer Rachel Potter on a simply outstanding rendition of the theme from Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera.

After a huge reaction, they guys follow that up with an electrifying a capella rendition of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music,” which also elicits cheers, whistles, and a leap to their feet on the part of the enthusiastic crowd.

With smiles on their faces and a jukebox full of songs in their hearts, as the audience members make their way out of the UCPAC auditorium, we chat with several music lovers in the crowd who share their thoughts regarding this evening of a cappella music magic.

Eileen, from Cranford, calls VoicePlay’s show, “great!,” detailing how she and her friends decided to have a “girls’ night out” and as a result, looked for “something fun” and found this production which, she says, turned out to be “super entertaining.”

Her friends, Jill, Grace, and Mandy, echo Eileen’s thoughts, calling the production “excellent” and “fun” in this “wonderful” UCPAC setting.

We also chat with Maria, from Woodbridge, who considers the show “awesome!,” and her friend, Sonia, from Perth Amboy, who picked the performance tonight by Googling “VoicePlay,” watching them perform online, and enjoying their “variety” declaring, “This is my kind of music!”

Lastly, we get a chance to check back in with our family of four — Alyssa, Aidan, and their parents, Jackie and Michael — from Uniondale, NY.

Dad Michael says he especially “loved the Broadway medley” and, also, “‘Seasons of Love’ from RENT” noting, “It’s amazing how many octaves their voices can cover!”

Mom Jackie agrees, echoing how the group’s “range is amazing,” and adding that she loves how VoicePlay “covers a lot of genres,” going on to describe the show as completely “worth the trip” and “a great way to spend a Saturday evening with the family.”

Big brother Aidan weighs in, too, adding, “I loved it!”

But what about second-grader Alyssa, here at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway for her very first-ever concert with Eli, Geoff, Earl, Layne, and Erik — the talented cast of VoicePlay?

“It was just great,” Alyissa whispers with a twinkle in her eye.

To which her Mom adds, smiling, “and we even got the T-Shirt!”

For further information on VoicePlay — including future tour dates, recordings, and more — please go to thevoiceplay.com. To find out about upcoming presentations at UCPAC — notably the internationally-acclaimed quartet StringFever on March 4 and country music sensation Leann Rimes on April 30 — please go to www.ucpac.org.

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