New York City Theater
"Altar Boyz" is, in many ways, the sweetest, most hilarious and delicious hour-and-a-half around. As conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport, its tale of five young male singers (think Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync) needles not only peach-fuzz groups but Christian ones as well.
Named Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (the token Jew), the guys pound out Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker's driving score and execute Christopher Gattelli's fiendish dances with both barrels. That they're actors playing characters is so cleverly disguised that teen audiences might scour stores for their non-existent CDs.
Kevin Del Aguila's libretto is a loose, purposely idiotic affair, something about saving souls - a particularly hard task, we're told, in sinful New York. Indeed, a soul sensor "takes the metaphysical temperature of the room" by toting up the number of people still needing to be saved.
Each guy has his solo moment. Matthew is the desirable stud, the group leader who serenades a female audience member about the joys of abstinence while clearly trying to turn her on. Mark, who went to sleep-away Bible camp, is his closest follower, biggest admirer and a closet case to boot. A highlight is his sly plea-for-tolerance confession about coming out - as a Catholic.
Luke is a good-natured, dim galoot, fresh out of rehab and determined to kick bad habits. Juan is the Hispanic who's searching for his real parents. Encouraged by his mates, he becomes a sweaty Rick Martin clone in "La Vida Eternal." Abraham's own big number is backed by four puppets that knock off Shari Lewis' famous Lambchop.
Although trying to soft-pedal the satire, the show obviously
has its eye on red-state fundamentalism. One song puts it squarely:
"Jesus called me on the cellphone
Roaming charges were incurred,
He told me I should go out in the world
And spread his glorious word."
With tongue-in-cheek direction by Stafford Arima and backed by musical director/conductor Lynne Shankel's roof-raising band, the boyz are as accomplished as they are lovable. Their names, for future reference, are Ryan Duncan, David Josefsberg, Andy Karl, Tyler Maynard (although I saw his understudy, Daniel Torres) and Scott Porter. Huzzahs to all.
-- David A. Rosenberg
March 25, 2005