Also see Matthew's review of Fences
Director Brian Swasey helms the professional New England premiere of this frenetic, hilarious musical comedy written by Kevin Del Aguila, with music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Like Nunsense, Late Night Catechism and Kiki & Herb before it, Altar Boyz is a playful send-up of everything Catholic. This time, it's packaged within a sure-fire, turn-of-the-century boy band franchise.
The cast never gets a break from their mission of soul conversion. The audience is full of more sinners than they've ever encountered and their dialogue is full of more Jesus jokes than we've ever heard. Whether they're singing their hearts out with ridiculous double entendres, moving to the beat with religiously infused hand gesturesor bothall five performers bring their A-games to this clever pop musical.
Jesus's favorite bandmates met serving their parish when they were kids. None of them agrees on the details of their making-the-band story, but that's no surprise given the biblical roots of their names.
Matthew (Kristofer Stock) is the attractive and talented front man. Flamboyantly closeted Mark (Philip Deyesso) pines for Matthew, but knows that Jesus is his main man. Luke (Theo Lencicki) is the streetwise, break-dancing jock of the ensemble. Juan (Tommy Labanaris, who seems to have aged out of this role) is the nun-raised Latino in the mix. And Abraham (Ryan Bates) brings diversity as the Jewish member of this apostolic crew.
Fitting perfectly into Seacoast Rep's intimate three-quarter thrust theater, David Towlun's set is an inspired sacred space he creates with shiny metallic framework that combines with a rock-star lighting design by Matt Guminski. Pulling double duty as costume designer, Labanaris outfits the group in appropriately over-the-top boy band gear. Having the instrumentalists onstage adds a sparkle of authenticity to the entire ensemble's performance, previously rehearsed by musical director Kathy Fink.
The only detraction from the spectacular performance is a sound system that, at times, cannot find a balance between the vocals and the band. Perhaps hiring a sound designer or using a clear percussion shell would improve the delivery of faced-paced, witty lyrics when the singers are all using wireless body mics.
I witnessed many cross-generational laughs in the house on opening night, but obviously this show is not for the easily offended. Check out Altar Boyz before it closes October 11 at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St., in Portsmouth, N.H. For tickets and information, visit the box office, call 603-433-4472, or purchase online at www.seacoastrep.org/.
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