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'Altar Boyz' Is A Slice of Theatrical Heaven

Altar Boyz

Book by Kevin Del Aguila, Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker,Conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport, Directed by Stafford Arima, Choreography by Christopher Gattelli, Set Design by Anna Louizos, Costume Design by Gail Brassard, Cast Lighting Design by Natasha Katz, Sound Design by Simon Matthews 

Matthew, Matthew Buckner
Mark, Ryan J Ratliff
Luke, Jesse JP Johnson
Juan, Jay Garcia
Abraham, Nick Blaemire
Voice of G.O.D., Shadoe Stevens

Performances: Now through November 5 at the Colonial Theatre
Box Office: Through Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787 and www.broadwayacrossamerica.com, or in person at the Colonial Theatre (

106 Boylston Street

It's funny, it's witty, it's energetic, and it's smart, but one only needs a single word to describe Altar Boyz-heavenly.

This fantastically funny parody channels the very best of the recurring boy band phenomenon through Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham-five boys saving souls and spreading the word of God nightly in cities across the globe.

In each character-and each song-one can see the spirit of boy bands past-New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Menudo, with some Village People, Sly and the Family Stone, and even a smattering of Beastie Boys thrown in for good measure. And whether or not you were a fan of any of these groups the first time around, you won't be able to help but love them in this theatrical reincarnation.

Unlike like their real-life counterparts, you see, the Altar Boyz aren't afraid to play up the stereotypes and poke fun at everything under the sun-and the result is a tried and true bit of hilarious, tongue-in-cheek theatrical comedy. To be perfectly honest, I haven't laughed this hard in a very long time.

The selling point, of course, is that from the very beginning, you're not at the theatre-you're at an Altar Boyz concert, watching the musical numbers and backstage antics unfold before your very eyes. Like any good boy band, they interact with their audience from the opening number "We Are the Altar Boyz," a wonderfully choreographed and particularly energetic number, and as the show unfolds, we learn a bit about each boy: Mark is in love with Matthew, Luke has done a stint in rehab for "exhaustion," Juan is a passionate and fiery piece of work, and Abraham is Jewish. This, my friends, is the foundation of great satire.

And it's all uphill from there. The songs are catchy, the choreography is tight, the story is captivating and funny, and the Boyz themselves, well, they just keep on rocking, one song after another, with wonderfully melodic vocals that showcase the very best of the Broadway-pop fusion. Unlike their MTV parody predecessors 2ge+her, these Boyz have staying power.

As you might imagine, there's a message behind the music, but it's not the sort of in-your-face preaching one might expect from organized religion; rather, it flows in the same vein as the 2004 indie hit Saved, a satirical teen comedy about America's Christian right. Behind the piercing jokes, the funky lighting design, and the almost constant smoke effects, Altar Boyz presents a universal message of faith, acceptance, and tolerance-a message that's highlighted in "Everybody Fits" and seems particularly relevant in this day and age, regardless of religion.

As for the actors themselves, well, a whole is only as good as the sum of its parts, and there are no weak links in this production. These boys have the chops to sing and dance their way into the audience's hearts. Matthew Buckner-who, intentionally or not, bears a striking resemblance to Justin Timberlake-shines as the Altar Boyz frontman Matthew, and Jesse JP Johnson's portrayal of Luke, the AJ McLean-type character, is so convincing it's actually a bit eerie. Jay Garcia runs us wonderfully through the full gamut of emotions as Juan, a character reminiscent of Ricky Martin during his Menudo years.

Like any boy band, though, there are occasionally breakout performances, and in Altar Boyz, these are Nick Blaemire, who plays Abraham, and Ryan J Ratliff, who plays Mark. They are both, in a word, fantastic. Blaemire particularly stands out in "The Miracle Song," which calls for him to perform both Beastie Boys style rapping and boy band style falsetto riffs, and ensures Abraham as one of the most endearing characters of this show. Ratliff is responsible for some of the funniest and most poignant moments of this production, from an "Epiphany" that both made me laugh and gave me chills, to a particularly side-splitting performance in "The Calling." There's no doubt that Ratliff plays the dive of this boy band, but he most certainly has the voice, the talent, and the attitude onstage to pull it off flawlessly.

It's really no surprise then that Altar Boyz was nominated for (and won) legions of awards-including the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Off-Broadway-after it's premiere at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, or that it's still running Off-Broadway. And it seems par for the course that the show has sparked a following of super-devoted fans, affectionately known as "Altarholics." My only question is, where can I sign up?

Altar Boyz isn't merely a show-it's a musical and theatrical phenomenon that transcends the confines of traditional theatre and enters into the realm of the sublime. In short, Altar Boyz is a little slice of heaven on stage.  

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Olena Ripnick Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel in ?The Sound of Music? at the tender age of six. She has an extensive background in both theatre and music production, and in 2001 founded Rip It Up Productions and has gone on to produce everything from musicals to benefit concerts. She continues to remain involved in the various aspects of the theatre, from performing to directing, as well as the many aspects of the music industry, including event production, artist management, and performance. When she?s not on stage or behind the scenes, Olena can be found on the ski slopes, on air with her weekly musical theatre radio show La Vie Boh?me (www.wtburadio.com), or traveling the world and exploring the infinite abyss. She thanks her family for supporting all her endeavors, no matter how crazy they may seem.


 
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