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Boy bands + Jesus = weird



It’s hard to tell what the musical “Altar Boyz” is supposed to be. Funky appeal to blind faith? Toothless satire?

It’s a good-natured little show, and although “Boyz” pokes fun at church customs, mainly just by referring to them, this Lyric at the Plaza production won’t have the faithful squirming in their seats. But it might have you looking at your watch.

Directed and choreographed by Billy Porter, “Altar Boyz” portrays the last concert on the “Raise the Praise Tour” by a Greenville, Ohio, band named, natch, Altar Boyz. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham. The boys tell us some device that detects troubled souls has been installed in the theater, and it’s their job to cleanse the souls in the show’s merciful 90 minutes. The Soul Sensor DX-12 eventually winds down to zero, but no quaking in the aisles or speaking in tongues were evident.

You can’t blame the five attractive lads for the show’s deficiencies; they are singing and dancing up a storm about an F-1 tornado. Skyler Adams (Matthew) is more or less the first among equals. James Michael Avance (Mark), Desmond Dansby (Luke), Ross McCorkell (Juan) and Jamie Goldman (Abraham) all get big solos in the funk/soul/gospel/hip-hop-heavy, completely forgettable score.

The book has more product placement by name-dropping than I’ve ever heard in a musical.

Closed-mindedness and irrational strictures make religion and the religious easy targets, but the creators of “Altar Boyz” haven’t come up with much that’s new. In explaining the genesis of the group, Abe says the group “evolved,” and Matthew admonishes, “Don’t say ‘evolved.’” The book and lyrics include much contemporary slang and cultural references. God is “real phat” and can “bust a move.” Luke tells Abe “break me off a piece of that miracle funk, yo!” One of the boys sings, “Jesus called me on my cell phone. No roaming charges were incurred.”

The show includes a lot of mild double entendres. In one sketch, the boys read “confessions” supposedly submitted in writing by the audience. Someone named Georgette reveals, “I covet my neighbor’s ass.” Juan then does a riff that couldn’t have been more than a minute on the neighbor’s donkey. Pretty mild; people with short attention spans might it fascinating.

The production’s design far exceeds the quality of the show. Jon Young’s schematic set and John Fowler’s elaborate lighting, along with Brad Poarch’s sound and Jeffrey Meek’s costumes, make the show seem more substantial.

The big ballad, “I Believe,” ends the work, and the Altar Boyz sing, “I believe in you.” But it isn’t clear who the “you” is. God? Each other? The audience? Humanity?

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