Attention closeted Boy Band fans - or even if you're just simply closeted, does Gothamist have a show for you. We had a blast at the satirical Christian boy band extravaganza Altar Boyz, a fun, pleasant surprise in the less-than-crowded arena of Off-Broadway musicals.
Kudos for those involved for daring to present something that feels fresh and new, yet warmly familiar, like a favorite sweater. The familiarity stems from the fact that Backstreet/N'Sync type boy bands are being sent up here, and the music is not unlike Top 40 pop hits we've heard time and again on MTV and on the radio. But these songs have a twist. They may sound like the Backstreet Boys, but they are jokey and satirical to the upteenth degree. And we actually want to hear these songs again, and we generally don't say that about The Backstreet Boys. Then again, the Backstreeters don't have lyrics one iota as entertaining as "Jesus Called Me On My Cellphone" or "Girl, You Make Me Wanna Wait." The latter's lyric continues, "....until then I'll masturbate." Priceless!
The show originally played last summer at the innaugural New York Musical Theater Festival, where packed houses declared it the must-see event of the festival. So backers decided to pack it off and send it to a bigger house off-Broadway at the Dodger Stages, where it opened last week.
We tend to frequently get annoyed at shows with paper-thin plots. And while it is true that Altar Boyz is more of a performance piece and less of a story, we had no problem with that, as the show is so clever and the five Boyz are so brilliantly acted and sung. In a nutshell, the conceit of the show is that we, the audience, are witnessing a showcase by this "band" for record label executives. In the ninety minute or so concert, each Boy will have a chance to tell his story, and we'll also hear about how the band was formed. Each Boy is an archetype we know from the real life boy bands. We get to know Matthew, Mark, Luke.....and Juan.....and Abraham. Juan, the Latino bad boy brings a touch of Ricky Martin-esque ethnicity to the group, but the real ethnic flair belongs to Abraham, the sole Jew in the bunch, who made it into the group because of his songwriting ability. We love his Nike-logoed yamulke. He says he's just a "Neil Diamond in the rough."
The real stand out of the group is the effiminate Oscar Wilde-quoting Mark. Will Mark come out in the course of the concert, admitting he's got the hots for one of his bandmates? Or will he keep his sins to himself? We loved Tyler Maynard's Mark. He steals the show, with his constant "nudge, nudge, wink, winks" to the audience, who are on to him from the get go, though his band mates remain oblivious.
We were also thoroughly charmed by the other Boyz, but most especially by the witty score, which manages to pay homage to such eclectic musical reference points as Led Zeppelin, Helen Reddy, and Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls .
Gothamist predicts a very long shelf life for this show, as word of mouth is bound to be excellent. If you're in the mood for a delightful send-up of the big businesses of God, religion, and boy bands, get thee to Dodger Stages and drop some filthy lucre into the collection plate.
Photography by Carol Rosegg