If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan

LONG WHARF OFFERS OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL

Adorable. It’s an adjective I don’t often use in reviewing, but it immediately comes to mind when considering the ample charms of “Altar Boyz”, the delightful off-Broadway musical currently spending the summer at the Long Wharf Theatre. Warm weather pocket musicals aren’t any more infectious or smile-inducing than this charmer – trust me.

Like “Nunsense” in Backstreet Boys garb, “Altar Boyz” is the name of the fictional Christian rock boy band that features five young men – four true-believers and Abraham, the token Jewish lad – who have hit the road for Jesus in a merry mission that saves souls while singing their hearts out. How this is accomplished in the breezy 90 minute concert musical format is a lot of fun and the specific “plot” of “Altar Boyz” will not be revealed here. Suffice it to say that Kevin Del Aguila’s clever book with Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker’s witty lyrics provide the gentlest of subversive satire and remains good clean fun for church groups everywhere. If “Nunsense” could prove a money machine for theatres across the country, the same should be true for this very pleasing confection. (Let’s only hope it doesn’t follow the “Nunsense” handbook and spawn a parade of weak and silly sequels. “Altar Girlz”? “Altar Boyz in Vegas”? Heaven help us!)

The quintet of singers assembled for “Altar Boyz” each has his own distinct personality with Tim Dolan and Andrew Quintero garnering big laughs as the Jewish and Puerto Rican singers respectively. Also very funny is Anton Fero playing a tough street kid whose various dance moves are simply electric. Philip Drennen proves an ideal dreamboat leader of the group especially singing his hilarious paean to abstinence, “Girl You Make Me Wanna Wait”. And Dan Scott, as a closeted but joyful homosexual, provides some kind of miracle late in the evening with a song that manages to foster both gay pride and Catholicism. Rest assured, however, that nothing in “Altar Boyz” ever seems sacrilegious or demeaning. There is an easy flow of laughter throughout the proceedings and this ensemble is just too full of good will and boundless enthusiasm to ever be mean-spirited.

One caveat: there are times when the talented four piece combo – nicely conducted by Lee Harris – drowns out some of the voices smothering those delicious lyrics in the process. In retrospect, the whole show may have worked better in Long Wharf’s intimate Stage II but a kindred spirit – “Late Nite Catechism” – has already taken up residence there this summer. Wouldn’t it be terrific for the Boyz to visit Sister some evening?

I was disappointed to witness a surprisingly sparse crowd in attendance the night I caught “Altar Boyz”. One hopes that once “the word” spreads, theatergoers of every denomination will descend upon the Long Wharf chapel. This is truly heaven-sent entertainment.

“Altar Boyz” continues at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre through September 13th. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tom@stratford.lib.ct.us. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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