By Geary Danihy
Altar Boyz, a road show production currently playing at Long Wharf Theatre, is a delightful froth of a musical, just the thing to entertain during those warm summer nights. It’s an hour and a half of determined silliness based on the premise that five young men – Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (“He’s Jewish!”) -- have formed a “Catholic” rock band and taken their show on the road to save souls for Jesus.
Of course, it’s all played for laughs, with the Catholic Church as the target of some gentle ribbing, much as it was in the ever-popular Nunsense series of musicals. At the same time, the show also pokes fun at the very genre it purports to be: the rock concert
The five actors performing as the quintet have had ample opportunity to work out any kinks, so the evening comes off with nary a hitch as the group segues from one song to another or mugs its way through such skits as the genesis of the band, with each member providing his own version of how the boys met and formed the Altar Boyz..
The campy tone of the evening is set before the boys ever get on stage, with the Voice of God (Shadoe Stevens, the former host of the “American Top 40” radio show), counting down the minutes until the show starts and then, as the lights dim, one lonely prop man appearing on stage to shoot out of couple of puffs from a portable fogger.
With that, the boys hit the stage and simply do not stop moving for the entire performance. They dance, they cavort, they do hand stands, read audience “confessions” and save souls as they belt out such numbers as “Church Rulez,” “The Miracle Song,” “La Vida Eternal” and “Number 918,” a musical exorcism.
It does take a bit of time to adjust to the decibel level so that the lyrics can be understood – but they are worth understanding, especially when the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the Church are dealt with. The semi-robotic nature of the congregation at Mass is satirized with lyrics and choreography that has the boys standing, kneeling, sitting, standing, kneeling sitting…anyone who has ever attended a Catholic Mass will have to chuckle.
Then there’s the Church’s proclivity for wanting to keep its younger members chaste until marriage. This is dealt with by Anton Fero (Luke), who draws a young lady from the audience and tells her, via “Something About You,” why he must keep himself pure even though she makes his jeans tight.
In an inspired piece of high camp, Philip Drennen (Matthew) comes out of the closet to admit, after many childhood years of being picked on by “Episcopalian thugs,” that he is…Catholic, and then, as he vamps around the stage, proceeds to sing a song filled with enough double entendres to fill a bingo hall.
Not to be outdone, Andres Quintero (Juan) finally has his prayers answered and learns who…and where…his parents are. The news so overwhelms him that he becomes speechless (or “singless”) during “La Vida Eternal” and must be consoled (and dragged back on the stage) while the rest of the boys try to get through the number.
Rounding out the group are Tim Dolan (Abe) and Dan Scott (Mark), both of whom have their moments in the spotlight – Dolan during “Everybody Fits,” in which the group is joined by bunny hand puppets; Scott, the most aggressively athletic of the group, as he pumps up the audience in “Epiphany.”
The point of the boys’ efforts is to save souls, and they measure their success quite often through the use of a machine developed by Sony that calculates the number of unrepentant souls in the audience. With each “inspiring” song, the number plummets until there are only four souls still wandering in the desert. This leads to the boys’ final, most forceful effort, the singing of “Number 918,” as they attempt to get “the hell” out of the recalcitrant – listen closely to both the lyrics and the music and you’ll catch numerous allusions to the film The Exorcist.
It is all done with tongues firmly lodged in cheeks and makes for a delightful evening of easy-to-take theater as you sit back and watch five highly talented young men, backed by a quartet of musicians that can really pump out the sound, do their animated, humorous routines.
Altar Boyz runs through Saturday, Sept. 13. For tickets or more information call 787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org.
To learn what other critics think of this show, go to www.ctcritics.org.
This review originally ran in The Norwalk Citizen-News.