Loopy lampoon of Christian boy band surprisingly is heaven-sent
Just when you thought boy bands—and boy band parodies—had gone the way of the macarena, now comes “Altar Boyz,” a spunky spoof featuring five hyper-synched dancing dudes who sing about love and devotion.
But there’s a twist. These squeaky-clean guys are in love with God and devoted to spreading the good word through their catchy hip-pop music. Fitted out with freaky dance moves, ecclesiastical blessing and gobs of hair product, they’re on a mission to save our souls, whether we crave salvation or not.
Not to worry, though. The hugely talented fellas restrain the holier-than-thou attitude, preaching “no judgments.” And if you give in to the zany spirit, sophomoric as it is, the show is quite a hoot.
It’s a miracle these boys sound so heavenly singing with tongues firmly planted in cheeks: “We don’t believe in hurtin’ or hatin’ ‘cause that’s the thing that leads to Satan.” They’re oh-so-proud to finally be hittin’ the big time in New York, playing Dodger Stages, Stage 4.
Like the defunct Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, each member can be handily labeled. There’s Matthew (Scott Porter), the “hot” one; Mark (Tyler Maynard), the “sensitive” one; Luke (Andy Karl), the “honky homeboy;” and Juan (Ryan Duncan) the “ethnic” one.” And we can’t forget Abraham (David Josefsberg), the “Jewish” one, who sports a Star of David necklace instead of a crucifix.
Briskly directed by Stafford Arima, the musical takes the form of a live pop concert—the climax night of their “Raise the Praise” tour—where the audience plays the role of lost sinners in need of redemption. Through song, dance (choreography by Christopher Gatelli) and skits, the boys relate stories about how they formed, and how they found Christ.
Their hokey contraption, which periodically displays how many souls still need to be healed, is a poor excuse for a plot device. But I’d like to think the slight book by Kevin Del Aguila was by design, allowing the musical numbers to take center stage.
The infectious score, by Gary Adler (musical director for “Avenue Q”) and Michael Patrick Walker, is surprisingly clever, perhaps taking a cue from the hilarious crowd-pleaser, “Musical of Musicals,” playing in Dodger Stages, Stage 5 right next door.
None of this would matter if the performers weren’t first-rate, and they are. Duncan’s gleeful rendition of “La Vida Eternal” will have you shaking your bon-bon, Ricky Martin style.
And when the dreamy Porter, who could charm the pants off Justin Timberlake, by the way, croons to an unsuspecting fan, “Girl, you make me want to wait” and “You make my Levi’s feel real tight,” she’s plucked from the audience and swoons. For Porter, art imitates life, since he once performed with the group 4:2:Five and is devoutly religious. With no trace of irony, he thanks God in his Playbill bio.
Maynard, who did a stint in “Mamma Mia,” whips the crowd into rapture with his smart solo about being persecuted by a pack of “Episcopalian thugs” because he was “different.” When the band sings, “God put the rhythm in me so I could bust a move,” he delivers his salacious rejoinder, “Put it in me!” with a devilish grin and a wink. To be sure, it’s his rapier, comic timing and swishy shenanigans that make “Altar Boyz” truly transcendent.
I have to confess, the religious shtick can grow monotonous after a while, but there are enough comic touches to keep the rabble amused. For example, the booming voice of God (aka “G.O.D.”), turns out to be legendary Shadoe Stevens, host of “American Top 40.” Surely, he’s an almighty father figure to any boy band.
“Altar Boyz,” which had a limited run during last year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, seems more targeted to heathens, teenagers and gay men than to practicing Christians, who will probably be ticked off. Much of the clothes, the double entendres and the moves—the band mates never miss a chance to hug or gaze into each other’s eyes—are blatantly homoerotic. But these innocents are oblivious to any sexual overtones, which is why the whole thing works.
The dutiful performers take pains to plug their supposed record label, Sony, more than once. But soon they’ll have to tweak the script and thank Sh-K-Boom Records, a real-life independent label, which is releasing their debut CD this month.