Its hard to tell what the musical Altar Boyz is supposed to be. Funky appeal to blind faith? Toothless satire?
Its 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 wont 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 its their job to cleanse the souls in the shows 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 cant blame the five attractive lads for the shows 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 Ive ever heard in a musical.
Closed-mindedness and irrational strictures make religion and the religious easy targets, but the creators of Altar Boyz havent come up with much thats new. In explaining the genesis of the group, Abe says the group evolved, and Matthew admonishes, Dont 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 neighbors ass. Juan then does a riff that couldnt have been more than a minute on the neighbors donkey. Pretty mild; people with short attention spans might it fascinating.
The productions design far exceeds the quality of the show. Jon Youngs schematic set and John Fowlers elaborate lighting, along with Brad Poarchs sound and Jeffrey Meeks 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 isnt clear who the you is. God? Each other? The audience? Humanity?