Saturday, January 15, 2011

Altar Boyz

Second coming of ALTAR BOYZ not as uplifting as possible

“The Altar Boyz” are in the house.” A countdown leading up to the “final” appearance of the religious rock group started about fifteen minutes before the five male “Catholic” singers made their appearance at the Hanna Theatre. Finally, with flashing lights and a loud musical hosanna, our heroes appeared.

Here's the deal. ALTAR BOYZ, with music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, and book by Kevin Del Aguila, is a “rock concert” by a “Catholic” group which satirizes boy bands and the popularity of Christian-themed contemporary music. Supposedly, we are attending their last performance. The group is breaking up, for some unexplained reason, well, unexplained until the corny last ten minutes when the “mystery” is revealed. The show includes all sorts of songs you've never heard, but will find enjoyable, including, “The Calling,” “The Miracle Song,” “Everybody Fits,” and “Number 918.”

The five-member group sings, has some lines that bridge the songs together, dance, and try to 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 group except the Jewish kid. Yep, one of the Catholic Altar Boyz is Jewish. Why? I'm certain that 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?

Does all this sound familiar? For local theatre-goers it should. Beck Center for the Arts staged the show during the summer of 2008. Because of its great box office success, it is being reborn on the Hanna stage by the same production team and four of the original cast members.

If my musically gifted grandson, Alex, one of the “kid reviewers” is right, the show should attract lots of teen and college people. He gave the proceedings an 8 out of 10 (higher than my score). He liked the rock music, some of the acting and the general staging. He found the vocal blending sometimes off. He “really liked” the singing of Connor O'Brien (Abraham) and Matthew Ryan Thompson. He found Thompson's character interpretation of the gay, fey, bleached blond, curly haired Mark, to be delightful, and his song “Epiphany” fun and well performed. (Thompson is the new member of the cast.)

Alex and grandpa were disappointed in the performance of Josh Rhett Noble. Noble, a New York-based performer, has appeared in over 50 professional shows. He has a trained singing voice and is the only Equity member of the cast. Unfortunately, whether he was ill or just on auto-pilot, his sweat soaked performance was vocally shallow and his acting flat.

On the other hand, Dan Grgic as the “chemically aided” Luke, had nice moments, though some of his speaking lines were swallowed, and Ryan Jagru was appealing as the Hispanic Juan, begging for laughs with a Ricky Ricardo overdone accent.

Scott Spence's direction was basically on course, but there were times when there needed to be more life, more enthusiasm, and more consistency in the performances.

Hernando Cortez's choreography was purposeful. Unfortunately, the dancers were often lacking in corps unity.

Larry Goodpaster needed to quiet down the well-performing band. They often overpowered the performers.

Besides Matthew Ryan Thompson, the highlight of the evening was Trad Burns' lighting design. Shadows danced on the walls, the lighting intensity followed the flow of the music, each performer had his own color hue, the emotional levels were raised and lowered as the lights played. Luminosities at their finest!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The music and the rock concert tone of ALTAR BOYZ will appeal mainly to a younger theatre crowd. That's good…it opens new doors for them to get familiar with live theatre. Too bad the production wasn't as polished as it should have been.