December 30, 2009

A Little Belated Praise for "Altar Boyz"

Some shows—like The Phantom of the Opera, the megamusical that celebrates its 22nd year on Broadway next month; and Altar Boyz, the vest-pocket musical that’s been playing at New World Stages for almost five years—have been around so long that it’s easy to take them for granted.  At least I’m certainly guilty of that. I’ve seen about 100 shows in just the past year alone and yet I’d never seen Phantom or the Boyz.  But earlier this month the producers of Altar Boyz announced that the show is going to close on Jan. 10. And, in a generous gesture, they invited a bunch of us theater bloggers to see the show before its final amen. I asked my old theatergoing buddy Bill if he had any interest in being my date and he jumped at the chance.  Like me, he’d never seen the show either.

As the legions of smarter theatergoers than Bill and me know, Altar Boyz purports to be a concert on the final night of a tour by a musical group with a decidedly Biblical bent—the five band members are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in a winking nod to demographic diversity, Juan and Abraham. The show is a send-up of both boy bands (all the requisite types are there—from the cute one to the cute-in-the-closet one) and contemporary evangelists who mix their religious messages with pop cultural references.  But the jibes are so amiable that Altar Boyz can be enjoyed by disciples of both and by hipsters who like to consider themselves in on any deadpan joke. The theater was only half full the night we went but all kinds of people
gray-haired grannies, giggling sorority types and spiky-haired Brooklynites—were there and they all seemed to be having a great time.

The show was conceived by Marc Kessler, a member of the Manhattan Rhythm Kings, and Ken Davenport, its lead producer.  The book by Kevin del Aguila centers on the group’s efforts to save the souls of the audience and is only communion-wafer-thin but the score by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, both of whom have worked as Broadway conductors, is devilishly droll, as are the direction by Stafford Arima and the choreography by Christopher Gattelli.

Scores of actors have flowed into and out of the cast over the years, including a few contestants from TV's "American Idol" and Cheyenne Jackson, who played the lead singer Matthew when Altar Boyz debuted at The New York Musical Theatre Festival back in 2004. The guys Bill and I saw—who included an understudy—were all super. Each one made the most of his shot in the spotlight and they’re all terrific in the group numbers.

Everyone involved works hard to make the 90-minute show a fun experience, both in and out of the theater. The top ticket price is just $75 and there are loads of discounts. In addition to the requisite show website, there’s another dedicated to the fans who are called Altarholics (click here to take a look at it).  The show regularly hosts pizza parties, called Altarholic Appreciation Days, and because Altar Boyz is running at the do-anything-to-make-the-audience-happy New World Stages, you can take a drink to your seat. The result isn’t the kind of show that will change your life, reinvent theater or even save souls but it is one that will send you out with a smile on your face.  And although I may be late joining the choir, I say amen to that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yep yep - it's been my fav for the last 5 yrs- sometimes all that smiling makes my face ache ;-/