Monday, August 18, 2008

Altar Boyz

‘ALTAR BOYZ’ entertaining at Beck, but…

The recently concluded run of ‘ALTAR BOYZ’ at Beck Center was met with sizeable crowds and good word of mouth. That’s the positive part. The other aspect is that the show, both the script and the production, though entertaining, were somewhat lacking.

Yes, the show received numerous awards, and has brought younger audience’s into the theatre, but what is it intended to be? It’s not really a spoof, or a satire or a parody. It’s a ‘NUNSENSE,’ ‘FOREVER PLAID,’ and ‘GODSPELL’—kinda’ thing. It pokes fun at boy bands and brushes Christian/Catholic positions on evolution, homosexuality, and unwed mothers, among others, and, of course, turns the other cheek when necessary. But, for what purpose? As one out-of-town reviewer said, “It’s amiable, but its also aimless.” And, being a message guy, that’s my problem with the script.

The show, for those who didn’t see it, is a supposedly real-time concert, in fact the last concert of the Altar Boyz “Raise the Praise” tour. The five-member group sing, have some lines that bridge the songs together, dance, and try and get the audience to repent. Their level of success is measured on a “sinner’s meter” which keeps track of those in the audience who are still on their way to hell. Finally, we are down to four hold-outs. And, no surprise, they are members of the Altar Boyz. All the members except the Jewish kid. Yep, one of the Catholic Altar Boyz is Jewish. Why, I’m not sure, but I’m certain that Kevin Del Agula, the script’s writer, figured he could use the yarmulke wearing kid for some laughs and use him as the only one who doesn’t “sell out.” there a religious message here?

The show had its debut in September of 2004 at the New York MusicaTheatre Festival and opened Off Broadway in March,2005 and has had a prosperous run.

The show's music and lyrics were written by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and the idea was hatched by Ken Davenport and Marc Kessler.

As for the Beck production. It was an enjoyable experience, but could have been much more. Now, to be fair, I saw the last show, a matinee mainly populated by senior citizens. There was mild response to the requests for participation and some audience members seemed lost in the material. One lady sitting near me was offended by the “sacrilegious” nature of the material. Since this is the kind of show that requires reaction from the audience, this might have been the reason for some flatness.

The obvious “star” of this production was John Riddle, who portrayed the fey Mark to perfection. He minced and over-gestured with panache. He has an excellent singing voice and appeared to be the only real dancer on stage. His “Epiphany” was delightful.

John Rhett Noble, who has portrayed Gaston in the numerous recreations of Beck’s ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ gives an adequate performance as Matthew, the leader of the group. He lacked the necessary vocal and personality dynamics to control the stage. His “Something About You” was well done.

Connor O’Brien who portrayed Abraham had some projection problems. Part way through the show he ripped off his microphone, losing his head covering in the process, and did the ending with no electronic aid. His articulation needed work as many of his lines were lost. His character development was not always believable.

Dan Grgic, portraying the less than bright southerner Luke, overdid the accent causing comprehension problems and portrayed a characterization rather than a character.

Ryan Jagru was appealing as the Hispanic Juan, but often overdid the accent and at times lost the characterization.

Hernando Cortez’s choreography was creative and purposeful. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the dancers to execute the polish and perfection which Cortez demands of his Verbs Ballet company.

Scott Spence’s direction was basically on course, but there were times when there needed to be more life, more enthusiasm, more naturalness from some of the cast members.

Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction was excellent, but one could have wished that he had worked with the cast on better pronunciation. Some song lyrics were garbled.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘ALTAR BOYZ’ was an enjoyable theatrical experience. A listening to the off-Broadway cast CD gives an idea of what the show could have been with a little more abandonment and dynamics.