Religion Rocks Long Wharf—
Altar Boyz Heralds in Summer Season
By Amy J. Barry
Long Wharf continues a recent tradition of bringing light and easy touring productions to its two stages during the summer months. This season kicks off with Altar Boyz—an innocuous musical comedy about a Christian boy band that comes to the Big Apple on its Raise the Praise tour, trying to make the big time singing and dancing in a Holy version of the late ’90s pop bands Boyz to Men and ‘N Sync.
The show with book by Kevin Del Aguila and music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker was a hit at the 2005 New York Musical Theatre Festival and since then the small town boys of the band have been entertaining enthusiastic small town audiences in regional theaters across the country with their high octane, soul-searching-and-saving music.
The band members are named after such major biblical figures as Matthew (Philip Drennen), Mark (Dan Scott), and Luke (Anton Fero) with Juan (Andres Quintero) and token Jew Abraham (Tim Dolan) added to the mix for some ethnic/religious diversity. Although some might find it a little disconcerting that Abe, who one would assume is a practicing Jew since he’s wearing a Yarmulke, would join a band that sings about Jesus Christ as their savior. But I’ll try not to quibble.
The characters are endearing if broadly drawn, each dealing with their own issues of family alienation, addiction, sexual orientation, etc. but always with humor and a light touch. There is just enough spoofing and satire to keep the show from devolving into total saccharine silliness but not enough edginess to insult or alienate anyone of any particular religious persuasion. And not one bad word is uttered throughout the 90-minute intermission-less production, making the show acceptable, wholesome fun for the entire family—although the pre-teen girls at the performance we attended seemed to be having the best time of all.
A few of the numbers have pretty darn funny lyrics, like Jesus called me on my cell phone—roaming charges were incurred…the abstinence-themed, verging on risqué: Something about you makes me want to wait, at least until we get married. Until then I’ll master my own fate…and what one expects to be a coming-out-of-the-closet confessional but turns out to be a different sort of admission: I can finally say I’m—a Catholic. It’s not a choice.
The set for Altar Boyz is rather bare bones—an industrial black-and-white platform with a keyboard-heavy live rock band behind the singers—not the dazzling staging or colorful costuming one would expect in a show about a sweet-natured boy band.
Despite a few too many corny double entendres, one must give this talented, likable group of performers credit for their sheer non-stop energetic interactions, highly gymnastic dancing, and tightly executed vocals. Even the most cynical theatergoers will likely leave Long Wharf with smiles on their faces and a bounce in their steps—if not a complete spiritual awakening.
Altar Boyz continues performances through Sept. 13 on the mainstage of Long Wharf Theater, 222 Sargent Drive in New Haven. If Altar Boyz doesn’t completely quench your fervor for religious comedy, the audience-interactive Late Nite Catechism returns to the theater for a third summer, July 24-Sept. 13, on Stage II. For tickets and times for both shows, call the box office at 203-787-4282 or online visit www.longwharf.org.
This review appears in 6/26/08 Living section of Shore Publishing Community Newspapers.