Thank heaven for 'Altar Boyz'!
by Howard Kissel


Any show that contains a reference to a teenage outcast threatened by "Episcopalian thugs" automatically wins my heart. I have a weakness for silliness, and "Altar Boyz," a new musical about an evangelical boy band, overflows with it.


The boys in "Altar Boyz" are named Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan. For the sake of ecumenism, there's Abraham, a Jewish boy who dropped by church to deliver Luke a ghostwritten term paper, fell in love with the band's robes and started writing their songs.


Is that silly enough for you?


The Boyz are at the end of a cross-country tour, in which they have won hearts to Jesus, and are now tackling the toughest nut of all, New York.


To gauge the impact of their ministry, a "soul sensor" at the side of the stage measures how many members of the audience have been won over.


Early on I feared that however steeply the number of non-believers dropped, there might still be someone sitting along the aisle who might not be won over by their strenuous ministrations.


The aisle-sitter, having experienced mild anti-Semitism as a child in the Midwest, does not take kindly to the kind of anti-Christian humor that has recently become mainstream. As a result, he winced during one of the dance numbers when one of the steps mimicked the Crucifixion.


But because the cast is so talented and so appealing, even the hardhearted aisle-sitter found himself laughing giddily at songs like "Girl, You Make Me Wanna Wait" and "Jesus Called Me on My Cell Phone."


If laughter is a form of salvation, my soul is clean.


I can't imagine it's easy to find a hunk with a sense of humor, but Scott Porter fits the bill perfectly as Matthew.


Andy Karl manages to make Luke, a doltish lug, oddly charming. Ryan Duncan is poignant as Juan, and David Josefsberg gets laughs from the "straightest" part, Abraham.


The prize role is the rather swishy Mark, which Tyler Maynard plays with a doe-like gift for provocative eye-batting. The high point of the evening is his 11th-hour "confession," which is totally hilarious.


Yes, "Altar Boyz" is a long joke. That's what musicals seem to be these days. With excellent direction and choreography, though, "Altar Boyz" keeps you laughing all evening long.