Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The show's theatrical conceit is that we are at the final concert of the Christian boy band group the Altar Boyz as they end their national "Raise the Praise" tour. They are in Peoria, Arizona, to help cleanse our souls through their funky fresh beats and hip hop moves. However, the boys end up learning a lot about themselves and each other on their mission to save the residents of Peoria.
With song titles such as "Jesus Called Me on My Cell Phone" and "Something About You", which features the lyric "girl, you make me wanna wait," you can tell that composers Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker know exactly how to play off of the famous boy band songs of the past and include lyrics that play into, while also having fun with, the Christian themes of the show. While the lyrics may be specific to a Christian boy band, the tunes are similar in style to many of the famous songs sung by famous boy bands like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. The book by Kevin Del Aguila is simple, brisk, and full of irreverent humor, but also detailed enough to give us plenty of information about each of the five boys. And though it has a simple plot and not that in-depth of a story, it is entirely endearing. Also, while it may not be a show that gets produced a lot, 14 years after it debuted at the New York Musical Festival, or that wildly known, the original Off-Broadway production ran for five years, played over 2,000 performances, and spawned more than one tour, which is proof to the infectious joy of the show.
Through Seth Tucker's direction, the cast create realistic portrayals even though they are all basically classic boy band archetypes. He ensures the comical moments are funny and the serious ones ring true. His staging flows seamlessly with Lynzee 4man's choreography, which is a constant mix of ever-changing steps and moves that both perfectly emulate and make fun of the classic '90s boy band moves. Mark 4Man's music direction delivers some stunning sounds from both the small onstage band and the cast. Isaac Varela's costumes have fun, specific embellishments that tie in directly to each of their characters.
All five "boyz" are diverse yet completely identifiable while playing off the classic boy band "characters." Joseph DePietro is Matthew, the heartthrob leader of the group. Tyler Greggory is Luke, the group's bad boy. Kirk Sobject plays Juan, the "ethnic" member, while Joe Ogren is Mark, who, without giving too much away, I'll just say has a deep fondness for and a strong connection to Matthew. Sam Primack plays Abraham, the group's sole Jewish member who we also are told wrote their lyrics. All five cast members provide strong vocals, expert dance moves, and fine comedic skills. They also have the classic boy band moves and gestures down pat and form an incredibly realistic group that you'd believe have known each other for years.
ABT's production of Altar Boyz is a crowd-pleaser, full of energy, bright and brisk dance routines, sharp parody, plenty of irreverent humor, and a cast and band that deliver. You don't have to be Christian, or religious, or have been in a boy band, to enjoy it and, while it might be a slight show, it sure is a lot of fun.
Altar Boyz, through September 16, 2018, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker