There's no accounting for taste. No show makes that clearer than the award-winning, audience-pleasing sugar cube now causing cavities at Stages Repertory Theatre. Altar Boyz, the dithering musical about a Christian boy band by Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, is supposed to be parody, but the silly show is everything satire should not be — predictable, banal and even a little offensive. Add in the fact that the popularity of boy bands has pretty much gone the way of Beanie Babies and certain political figures, and you've got a production that has all the value of a day-old can of Coke.
Created as a show within a show, the story takes place during a performance by the band. The members introduce themselves in "We Are the Altar Boyz," a happy song featuring a series of boyishly athletic dance steps choreographed by director Scott Thompson. Clearly meant to mimic moves made by popular bands of the '90s, they come off as a little bit dated even as the performers are earnestly sweating their way through every hip gyration.
Each goofily grinning group member inhabits a different stereotype. Matthew (Kristofer Stock), the sweet, hunky blond, is charmingly oblivious to all the adoration he fosters. Mark (Danny Calvert) wears lip gloss and limp wrists and twitters about the stage, seemingly unaware of what's made way too obvious to the audience — he's in puppy love with Matthew. Luke (Josh Rouah, who's the best dancer of the whole group) is a big, dumb, gangster-wannabe lug of a guy who wears his cap backward and his jeans a little bit sagged. There's no John, but Juan (Dylan Godwin) is an embarrassing cartoon of a character that harks back to old stereotypes about Latin lovers. In an unfortunate accent, he says "Chew" instead of "you," wears his curls slathered in oil and makes googly dark eyes at all the ladies in the audience. Of course, his song "La Vida Eternal" is the only one with a Latin beat. Finally, Abraham (Charles Swan) is the one Jewish kid (as in, smart Jewish boy) in the group. He met the rest when he was doing homework for them years ago, but what made the yarmulke-wearing kid want to sing the praises of Christ remains a mystery.
This collection of stick figures might be okay if the music was better. But the tunes and lyrics are often just plain dull. In "Church Rulez," the boys sing "Sit down and listen to the homily" and "kneel and say your prayer to Jesus." The only joke is in the quirky spelling of the title. "The Calling" features one surprise: "Jesus called me on my cell phone." In "The Miracle Song," the story of Christ is rapped, with lyrics such as "That's how it went down." And in "Something About You," a woman is pulled from the audience to sit on a stool while Matthew sings about the wonders of chastity. He looks into her eyes and croons, "You make me want to wait." That's a funny moment — the first time he sings it. During "Epiphany," Mark sings about a very personal and private discovery that surprises us all. Another funny moment — at first.
These driveling tunes are strung together by a thin story. We hear about how the group got together and what sort of trials they are facing now as each has been tempted to sign a solo contract. And the concert moves forward because the "Soul Sensor," an enormous electrified cross at center stage, counts down how many people in the audience have been saved over the course of the show (this conceit is too disturbing to be funny). When the number gets down to four, all seems to be about to wrap up, except for a twist in the plot that reveals the Altar Boyz aren't as sweet as they appear. Each one is a little bit naughty. Once they confess, however, we're all saved from another moment of this inanity.
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