Altar Boyz is an incredibly funny show. Honest to the big G.O.D.
In fact, heartfelt shout out to the Big G.O.D. Dude, thanks for the really great concert… that’s a musical… that’s a concert. It’s kind of like the water into wine thing but with a boy band.
You see, when you take your seat at Altar Boyz, the musical you’re actually taking your seat at is the final concert of the latest tour of the Altar Boyz, the hottest multi-denominational boy band on the planet. Or, the hottest multi-denominational boy band from Ohio rockin’ the state fair and youth fellowship circuit, driving their own van.
Bringin’ in the funk and the salvation are Mathew, Mark, Luke and Juan. And Abraham. He’s the Jewish one.
In the style of all the great boy bands — and manufactured pop sensations in general — each of the boys has a role to play. And they play it to the hysterical hilt.
Matthew (Jared Zirilli) is the tall, dreamy lead. Mark (Patrick Elliot) is the incredibly out-of-the-closet in-the-closet gay one whose bandmates are clearly oblivious to the fact that he’s as into the men as the a-men. Luke (Travis Morin) is the tough guy rapper who has recently returned to the tour after having to be hospitalized for a little Lindsay Lohan-grade ”exhaustion.” He was, apparently, getting exhausted all the time.
Juan (Michael Busillo) is the exotic Latin one. And then there’s Abraham (David R. Gordon) who, like many of his fellow chosen people to get a message from the great manager from beyond, is pretty convinced God didn’t really mean to pick him for this particular evangelical mission. Abraham’s mother is pretty sure it’s some sort of a mistake as well.
From bringing the winner of a local radio station’s meet the Altar Boyz contest up on stage to choreography that is horrifyingly true to teen phenom form, the musical works because it is so incredibly dead on. With a set list that includes faith pop favorites like ”Ephipany” (where Mark comes out as a Catholic), the abstinence-only ballad ”Something About You (Makes Me Wanna Wait),” and of course the crew’s theme, ”We Are The Altar Boyz,” this is a concert that could actually be taking place in some mega-church amphitheater. There’s no wink to the audience, no sly or ironic asides. The concert is for real. As real as any boy band can be.
To be convincing and earnest enough to be believable, Altar Boyz can’t work without a powerfully talented cast. Without question, the boys who have arrived in Bethesda to ”alter your mind” are hitting all their marks. Morin does a particularly impressive job playing the Marky Mark-like Luke as does Gordon as Abraham. Gordon is left with the task of ultimately delivering the show’s ”message,” and he does so with a kind of honesty that is unexpected and surprising but actually works, even in the strange context of the show. Altar Boyz is not a musical that would seem to lend itself to the heartfelt monologue but, well, there it is.
It’s also a musical whose premise would not necessarily seem the place for a gay character that’s used for anything more than a punchline or a punching bag. While there are more than a few times where Elliot’s Mark is very entertainingly walking the fine line between character and stereotype, the actor makes it work. He’s got a great sense of comic timing teamed with a voice that blends the control of genuine training with the bombast of an American Idol contestant. Fitting (though admittedly surreal) is the fact that Elliot is also a recent graduate of Catholic University.
So, grab your rosary beads, dig out that Amy Grant ’83 ”Age to Age” concert tour t-shirt and make a pilgrimage to the Bethesda Theatre. The Altar Boyz are singing and dancing to save your soul. Showing up to laugh is the Christian — er, ecumenical — thing to do.