Though both the boy band and Christian rock are already pretty much parodies of themselves, Altar Boyz finds enough mileage in playing stereotypes to come across as a cult musical sensation and one of the few true “guilty” pleasures. Though the substance is as flimsy as Godspell, the up-tempo, modern groove makes it more than bearable—pleasant, even—and the cast is talented enough to make certain songs and gags (the two are interchangeable) infectious.
For about eighty minutes, Altar Boyz kicks it old school with everything from beat-box rap (“The Miracle Song”) to Latin funk (“La Vida Eternal”) and highly choreographed pop (“Rhythm in Me”). There’s break dancing, puppets, and even some love songs, all of which is slathered in satire. For instance, when the closeted singer, Mark, finally comes out in the song “Epiphany”—he uses the word “Catholic” instead, a humorous assault on the very institution that condemns being gay. Kevin Del Aguila’s book and Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker’s lyrics also take turns playing on verbal expectations, such as the assertion that “charisma and spunk equals crunk” or a lovely verse in the abstinence song, “Something About You”: “You make me want to wait/so until then I’ll master.../my own fate.”
While some of words grow a bit redundant as the show continues—“Use your soul every day/or it will go away” doesn’t have the same sterling tone as “Jesus called me on my cell phone”—the cast keeps the energy up, which is a “testament” to their strength. Each plays a specific role: Matthew’s the leader, Mark’s the “sensitive” one, Luke’s the gangsta (speaking straight to G.O.D.), Juan’s the Spanish lover, and Abraham’s the Jew. Andrew C. Call, who plays Luke, winds up stealing the show with his straight-up antics and unbelievable range (while break dancing in the gospel-icious “Body, Mind & Soul”), but the rest of the cast isn’t far behind. (For example, Zach Hanna plays Mark way over the top (think Mario Cantone), but wonderfully so.)
Altar Boyz is most certainly a cult hit. There are a few half-hearted attempts to reach a moral about unity, but it’s really just a jukebox musical with all-original songs. Assuming you’re not overly offended by lighthearted jokes involving all the souls in the audience that have gone “downright obese” with sin, you’ll have a good time.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.