Let's Hear It for the Boyz

Altar Boyz is musical theater for people who don't really like musical theater, although Phoenix Theatre's excellent production, currently on display on the company's main stage, might change some anti-musical-theater minds.

The vaguely irreverent one-act is staged as a concert from fictional Catholic boy band The Altar Boyz, so its script naturally sends up Catholicism, Christian rock, and manufactured pop groups with great glee and more than a little fine writing.

The material is better appreciated by folks who find the tenets of Catholicism amusing. Four of the boys are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan, as in the authors of the four canonical Christian books. (The punch line here is not that the apostle John is now Juan, but that the fifth Boyz member, Abraham, is a Jew.) There are references to Communion wafers and drinking the Blood of Christ and, of course, a couple of nun jokes. But playwright Kevin Del Aguila has finessed these Christly allusions so that they're amusing even to those who've never genuflected in their lives.

Of course, Del Aguila has written the five Boyz as archetypes: The Hunk, The Dumb Hunk, The Sissy, The Sex-Crazed Hispanic, and The Jew — the last character straight out of Central Casting and, as portrayed by Brian M. Golub, the only one of the performances that brings some depth to a shorthanded stereotype. Golub underplays every one of his bits of Borscht Belt business and, by the time he wound up the show with "I Believe," a power-ballad paean to piety and friendship, I was convinced he was a Jewish/Catholic pop star.

Golub's castmates more than keep up vocally, and there isn't a flatfoot in the bunch. Director/choreographer Robert Harper has found the perfect vehicle for the slick, slightly goofball dance moves at which he excels. While Harper's straight-to-music-video moves are too show biz for such as Guys and Dolls and Will Rogers Follies, two of the programs he's over-glamorized in recent years, here his jazz-hands-happy, super-syncopated spins and twirls are a perfect fit for cheesy boy-band glitz.

If there's a problem with this show, it's that it so perfectly captures the bubblegum pop of boy band music (thanks in good part to Alan Ruch's exceptional five-piece rock band and the real-time, live concert setup) that it's possible that only tweens and Monkees fans might not tire of the relentless sparkle of its bop. Then again, Altar Boyz is so short and sweet that I'm guessing even blue-haired season ticket holders will find something to admire here. I certainly did.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela