'Altar Boyz' Spreads Cheer
by Michael Kuchwara


Amen. Spreading ecumenical good cheer, "Altar Boyz" has arrived at off-Broadway's Dodger Stages where it should be preaching to enthusiastic crowds for some time to come.


This nifty little spoof of Christian boy bands is delightful entertainment, a genial send-up of young performers who sing, dance and praise the Lord, all done in a fast-paced 90 minutes.


"Now we don't believe in hurtin' or in hatin' cause that's the kind of stuff that leads to Satan," go the words for one of the show's catchier, up-tempo songs.


OK, so the score, written by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, is not exactly Stephen Sondheim. No matter. The lyrics and music are fun in a pop-rock way. Direct. Slightly cheeky. And often hypnotic in their repetition.


The show, with a book by Kevin Del Aguila (from an idea by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport), takes the form of a concert by the Boyz. These lads are well-scrubbed but carefully chosen for their diversity. No wonder they are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan - and Abraham.


Besides the rapid-fire group numbers, each cast member gets a solo moment to shine. Lead singer Matthew (Scott Porter) is the group's resident hunk. Luke (Andy Karl) is a white home boy, a break dancing rapper. Mark (Tyler Maynard) is the gay one, a fabulous Judy-Madonna-Britney-in-training. Juan pays homage to Ricky Martin by way of Antonio Banderas (news). And Abraham is, well, a great belter. But then, they all were chosen for their terrific voices and high energy.


There is a minimal plot, which director Stafford Arima wisely makes sure doesn't outwear its welcome. It involves something called a soul sensor, a machine on stage that takes the spiritual temperature of those in the auditorium. Or as one of the Boyz says, "How many souls might be burdened with sin, right here is this very theater?" Just about everyone, it turns out, including the Boyz themselves.


"Altar Boyz" is a kissin' cousin of "Forever Plaid," a humorous homage to guy groups of the 1950s, although "Plaid" used real songs from the Eisenhower era. And the show is a distant relation to such classic send-ups as "The Boy Friend," which spoofed 1920s musicals, and "Little Mary Sunshine," which did the same to operettas. But like those two shows, "Altar Boyz" has a great deal of affection for what it is spoofing. And that affection makes it all the more enjoyable.


Already this season we have had several spiffy musicals off-Broadway: "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which moves to Broadway in the spring, and "The Musical of Musicals," also playing in the Dodger Stages complex. "Altar Boyz" is a worthy addition to that select group.