By Bradley Rohlf
It’s 1999 and the hottest Christian boy band is on the final stop of their summer tour. in “Altar Boyz,” a fun and funny musical about a fictional ’90s boy band of the same name. They are singing their hearts out and shaking what the good Lord gave them.
With music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, and book by Kevin Del Aguila, the overall conceit is that this is an actual performance by the titular group. At the Silhouettes Production Company show, the audience is not watching a show about the Altar Boyz — we are watching the Altar Boyz themselves in concert.
After being called to show business by a Heavenly Voice, played by Chandler Spradling, they embark on a mission to lighten all the burdened souls in the nation, with the help of tight harmonies, steadfast faith, and their corporate sponsors.
Matthew (Riley Dunn) is the leader of the group – the heartthrob with the ability to make you feel he is singing only to you.
Mark (Clayton Humburg) is the choreographer — in the story (this production was choreographed by Jordan Woods). He is sweet, but finds himself hiding a personal secret.
Luke (Kevin Corpuz) is the former bad boy, but on the straight and narrow now — mostly. The Boyz attempt to clean up his image by glossing over his colorful past with near transparent euphemisms.
Juan (Marshall Jennings) is an orphan in search of his birth parents, and also the costumer of the band.
Abraham (Corey Fraine) writes all the lyrics. He also happens to be Jewish, a fact directly proclaimed by him, the band, and the yarmulke atop his head. But this doesn’t pose a problem for him, and he enjoys singing about Jesus just as much as the rest of the group.
“Altar Boyz” is a mostly silly show with a thin plot, and a thin message promoting the unity of humankind. Besides saving souls, the Boyz also have to resist the temptation of selling out. But the show is about a boy band – what more is there to expect? The show capitalizes on the simplicity of the concept to load up the evening with jokes and nostalgia-inducing dance combos.
Under the direction of Elisabeth Wurm, the cast sells every bit of the performance. Add to that a concert-inspired set and lighting by Devin Lowe and Ryan Shepard, respectively. As the Boyz sing and dance on the colorfully glowing translucent platforms, it is not hard to believe they are a troupe at the top of their game.
The Boyz display a charming naivete, disregarding any cognitive dissonance between their message and the means in which they bring it. And they do bring it.
They exhibit vocal strength locking in harmonies under music direction by Joel Hackbarth. They also impress with their execution of Woods’ choreography, a spot-on pastiche of the boy-band era. No one will leave the show wanting for body-rolls, hip-thrusts, and articulated hand motions.
While each member of the ensemble fully embodies their character through their energetic dance moves, the stand out is the stunning physicality and near-acrobatics of dance captain, Corpuz.
It is not necessary to be familiar with boy bands and Jesus culture to enjoy “Altar Boyz,” but there are plenty of moments that will reward the more initiated. From theological throwaway jokes, to the subtle way Fraine pronounces the ‘E’ vowel at the end of a phrase in the song “Everybody Fits,” the show displays a broad range of humor, despite its narrow theme.
The show is similar to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, as they primarily take one comedic concept and extrapolate it. But unlike an SNL sketch, which spends all its capital early and goes on too long, this show remains engaging throughout, and wraps up with a satisfying, albeit predictable punchline.
The show is the 9th longest-running musical in off-Broadway history (March 1, 2005 to Jan. 10, 2010, it played 16 previews and 2,032 regular performances). It may not be emotionally or philosophically deep, but it is deeply entertaining. Dunn, Humburg, Corpuz, Jennings, and Fraine all put forth great effort to keep the audience clapping and hollering along, and will no doubt succeed night after night.
“Altar Boyz” is presented by Silhouettes Production Company July 13-15 and 19-21 at the Kranzberg Arts Center’s black box theater. For more information or tickets, visit www.silhouettesproductionco.com or call Metro-Tix: 314-534-1111.
Photos by Tyler Gruen