A boy band that raises its voices in praise
by Gordon Cox


The resurrection of "Altar Boyz" arrives Off-Broadway with a healthy dose of buzz from its earlier life. The entertainingly stupid musical about a Christian boy band won over its first apostles during a brief run in the summer at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.


It's probably a little late to be poking fun at the boy-band phenomenon, and sometimes you can feel the show's creators straining to stretch their clever idea for a skit into a full 90 minutes. (The lamb puppets - as in Lamb of God - seem a little desperate.) The show, which chronicles the final New York City concert of the Boyz' "Raise the Praise" tour, is only as funny as its songs.


Thank the Lord, then, that many of those songs are very funny indeed. Written by composer-lyricists Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Weller, the tunes proclaim, "God put the rhythm in me so I could bust a move," and pepper a description of Jesus' miracles with the chorus, "Christ, how'd you do that?" A truly hilarious love song, whose gist is neatly summed up in the line "Girl, you make me wanna wait," almost redeems its pull-a-pretty-girl-onstage moment of audience participation.


The show's conceivers, Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport, have imagined their band with a corporate eye toward cross-market appeal. Matthew (the earnest Scott Porter in a muscle-T) is the central heartthrob, bland enough to win over the widest possible swath of teenage girls. Mark is the creative one - which is to say, the barely repressed homosexual played by the dazzlingly fey Tyler Maynard.


Luke, played with faux-thug credibility by Andy Karl, sports "bling for the King" to bring in the urban listeners. Juan, portrayed by Ryan Duncan with a winking smolder in his eye, provides the lusty Latin twist, singing about la vida eternĂ¡l instead of la vida loca. There's even an Abraham (the affable David Josefsberg), a Jewish member who beats his breast in time to the music.


What little plot Kevin Del Aguila's joke book has focuses on the openly ridiculous Soul Sensor DX-12, an electronic device that calculates how many souls the Boyz save over the course of a show. We could use more of the character development - Luke's battle with "exhaustion," for instance, or Juan's status as an orphan - that leaks out as if by accident.


Such sins are easy to forgive. Under the direction of Stafford Arima, the roof-raising cast works up a sweat on a "Rent"-chic spare set by Anna Louizos. Bathed in garish rock-show lights by Natasha Katz, these Boyz pound out Christopher Gattelli's arch choreography in the devout service of rousing silliness. Amen to that.