nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
February 27, 2005
As the audience is being seated at Dodger Stages Theatre 4, the band begins to assemble on stage. Techies with smoke machines start setting the mood as an announcer comes on to let us know how many more minutes before the stars of the evening will be arriving at the theatre. Finally, they get there. The band kicks in full-blast and the crowd goes wild as Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham, the “Apostles of Pop,” hit the stage for the final show of their tour. It’s a play. It’s a concert. It’s Altar Boyz, the new Christian boy band that’s come to save a few New York souls with ninety minutes of witty music, hot dancing, and way more laughs than I expected. It’s a tight, fun show that you can’t help but love.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: in a time when fundamentalist religious extremists are wreaking havoc with our Constitution and playing games with many of our rights and individual lives, how can a show like this play in New York, a city not known for its tolerance of intolerance? Well, there’s really nothing in Altar Boyz that should offend anyone. The religious content is about at the level of a Saturday morning cartoon, with the intellectual prowess of… well, a pop boy band. The show, in fact, pokes plenty of harmless fun at organized religion. The only message here is the power of love, acceptance, and great hair products.
With fierce, athletic, sometimes tongue-in-cheek choreography by Christopher Gattelli, the five boys are put through their paces, sweating like crazy, all the time singing full out and staying delightfully in character. All five actors have tremendous voices, mad dance moves, and sharp comic timing. There’s Scott Porter as Matthew, the “heartthrob,” who picks a pretty girl from the audience, sits her up on stage, and sings his big solo number; “Something about you makes me want to wait.” Tyler Maynard as Mark, the closeted gay twinkie, is a comic master. He stops the show with a number about how Matthew, his secret crush, helped him come out… no, it’s not what you think. Andy Karl is the tough street kid, Luke, with the hip-hop dance moves and the heart of gold. He was sent away for a while for “exhaustion.” One time he was so “exhausted” he cracked up the van. Juan, played by Ryan Duncan, is the hot Latin with Ricky Martin moves, a story more heart-breaking than a novella, and hair that gets sexier the more he sweats. Finally there’s Abraham, the hip-hop Jew played by David Josefsberg. But are Jews allowed in here? “I think I see one in front, hanging on the cross,” he points out. By the end, he teaches the rest of them a thing or two about “Christian” love.
There’s a fun, simple book by Kevin Del Aguila that tells the story of the band’s creation, and gives each boy his moments to shine. The story leaves us here today where the band, with their new digital machine that measures lost souls, is planning on purifying the audience one by one until the counter gets down to zero. Stafford Arima’s direction is right on, full of not-so-subtle innuendo and jokes on the cast that only the audience gets. Renowned deejay Shadoe Stevens is the perfect choice here for the voice of God. Lynne Shankel’s tight four-piece band rocks the house, adding way more fun, excitement, and bang for your buck.
The very diverse audience was laughing and cheering throughout, and on their feet at the end. Altar Boyz is a crowd pleaser, for sure: a harmless, non-stop good time, perfect for kids and teens of all ages.