BWW Review: ALTAR BOYZ: Music With a Mission
Book by Kevin Del Aguila, Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, Conceived by Mark Kessler and Ken Davenport; Co-Directed by Tyler Rosati and Ceit Zweil; Music Direction, Matthew Stern; Choreography, Ceit Zweil; Scenic Design, Jenna Lord; Costume Design, Chelsea Kerl; Lighting Design, Jeff Adelberg; Sound Design, John Stone; Production Stage Manager, Rachel Policare
Performances through April 9 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA; Box Office 781-279-2200 or www.stonehamtheatre.org
Boy bands were big in the '90s. Marked by close harmonies, synchronized choreography, and saccharine sex appeal, each had its own image and they were particularly successful with young female audiences. Altar Boyz spins the concept, combining it with the popular wave of Christian-themed music, and the result is an original musical revue featuring five singing and dancing boys on the last night of their national "Raise the Praise" tour. Seven years after a successful Off-Broadway run (more than 2000 performances, nearly five years), the Boyz are strutting their stuff at the Stoneham Theatre under the co-direction of Tyler Rosati and Ceit Zweil, with Music Direction by Matthew Stern and Choreography by Zweil.
Let me start with the blessings of the production. Musically, it is very well done with Stern and three musicians seated onstage, above and behind the performers. Michael Levesque (Matthew), Michael Jennings Mahoney (Mark), Sean Mitchell Crosley (Luke), Ricardo D. Holguin (Juan), and Bryan Miner (Abraham) sound heavenly when they sing five-part harmony, as well as when each gets a solo turn. As dancers, they are synchronized and energetically sell Zweil's combinations. Holguin's moves stand out in general, and Crosley steals the spotlight in "Body, Mind & Soul."
All five of the actors are likable and engaging, but their hard work is insufficient to overcome the very sketchy book by Kevin Del Aguila. His characters are boilerplate: the sweet gay boy, the street tough hip hop guy, the moral center, the lost boy, and the fish-out-of-water Jewish boy. Attempting to cover all of those bases with minimal back stories dilutes the impact that a more coherent narrative might have, but we learn more about the characters from their songs (music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker) than from the book. Part of the mission of the Boyz is to lift the souls in their audience and they measure their success by checking the number on a digital screen overhead (Soul Sensor DX-12). I lost track of how many times they did that, but it interrupted the flow and was about 12 times too many.
Altar Boyz follows in the footsteps of many light-hearted musical revues, and its run Off-Broadway serves as testimony to the popularity of the genre. For me, it evokes memories of Forever Plaid, one of my all-time favorites, which had a very successful local incarnation in the early '90s in the Terrace Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, where it ran for several years. The four Plaids were resurrected following a car crash in order to have one final performance and record an album of old '50s chestnuts. The disciples in Altar Boyz will keep singing and dancing - at least until April 9th in Stoneham.