How can you possibly not like a show whose characters are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (“he’s Jewish”)? Altar Boyz gyrated into action last night at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre to thunderous applause.
I saw the show in New York in March this year with its American cast and listened to co-conceiver and producer Ken Davenport discuss how one small idea blossomed into a huge success. You don’t have to be Einstein to realise why this show has been running on Off Broadway for nearly four years now and was winner of the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off Broadway Musical. It’s a high-octane, all singing, all dancing musical feast that never slows down.
Altar Boyz is a spoof on the boy band concept and the plot is the guys’ final show of their ‘Raise The Praise Tour’. As you might have guessed already, these boys aren’t just any band, they’re a Christian boy band. The dialogue and lyrics are so cleverly penned, the show never borders on being offensive, because everyone is so clean and innocent. Somehow, Altar Boyz successfully celebrates religion and yet makes light ridicule of it at the same time.
Half way through the show, the ‘Altar Boyz’ hear audience confessions. My confession is that I was once a Catholic altar boy myself, back in the school days. If you were raised Catholic, you simply can’t miss this show; there’s way too many wise cracks and laughs to be had. If you’re religious of any flavour, this show is still one big hoot for everyone.
Melbourne audiences will love lines like “Who needs the V-C-E when we’ve got the B-I-B-L-E”. Teenage girls should enjoy the bonus of five cute guys dancing on stage for 90 minutes. Young men interested in the arts should be inspired by what these five guys can do. While mums and dads will laugh till it hurts.
Of course, your appreciation of the show will be enhanced by a familiarity with boy bands. Sure enough, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past decade or two, you won’t have escaped it. Altar Boyz satirises the clichéd moves of every boy band you can think of. It pays homage to the formulaic dance moves of New Kids On The Block, the gospel jives of Sister Act and The Blues Brothers, and the beautiful harmonies of Boyz II Men. Even the raunchy Latin sensation Ricky Martin is sent up to hilarious effect in Juan’s song La Vida Eternal.
The triple threat in musical theatre of acting, singing and dancing probably requires the singing to be paramount in Altar Boyz. This production, however, has dancing as its strongest element. The choreography is stunning. You will be blown away by the synchronisation of many dance moves involving the five characters. The precision of the choreography is fantastic, keeping in mind it’s all the more enjoyable because it’s taking the mickey out of the staple diet of boy bands in the process (I lost count of the crotch-grabbing after about twenty minutes).
The singing is impressive, considering the cast is moving at a fast pace through most of the numbers. There’s a good mix of songs in Altar Boyz, from high energy dance numbers to beautiful ballads, with Cameron MacDonald’s voice (Matthew), a highlight. Occasionally, however, it is difficult to understand the lyrics in the louder numbers behind a combination of accent and production values, with a slick on-stage band powering the Boyz mostly synth-pop concert on stage.
All the characters are individual stereotypes in Altar Boyz. Latino Juan flirts with pretty girls in the audience. Still-in-the-closet Mark is constantly caring for everyone on and off the stage. Not-too-smart Luke hip-hops his way through the show. Matthew is the pretty boy out front and rock behind the band’s success. While Abraham is the not so typical Jewish-Catholic altar boy. Perhaps a bit more could be done with a couple of the characters, but the show’s strong singing and dancing are most important to it’s success.
The plot is relatively thin, but if it were heavy in a show like this, something would be seriously wrong. The writers of Altar Boyz have managed to weave in a few plots revealed in spoken dialogue and illustrated by the musical numbers, such as the origins of the band, Mark’s battle and pride in being ‘different’ (he’s “Catholic”) and Juan’s quest to find his long lost parents. With song lyrics like “Jesus called me on my iPhone / No roaming charges were incurred” and “He beeped me, he faxed me, he emailed my soul”, the show even steps outside and laughs right back at itself. All part of the fun of a really good night at the theatre.
Just as Heath Ledger recently stole the show from Christian Bale in the film Batman The Dark Knight, so too does Dion Bilios in Altar Boyz. His over-the-top interpretation of a gay Mark is a show-stealer, but thankfully not detracting from MacDonald’s main character Matthew. Bilios’ comic timing, use of hand gestures and hilarious facial expressions are worth the ticket price, alone. You will be laughing long and hard at Bilios’ attention to detail in every move.
In the vein of stage musicals’ Mamma Mia and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Alter Boyz is a feel-good show that will have you boppin’ in your seat and singing along to the songs for days to come. Production company Ovations Live have a winner on their hands with this holiest of hits.
You should be S-T-RUGGLIN’ not to buy a ticket!
Altar Boyz is currently playing at the Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins St, Melbourne. Ph (03) 9650 1500. Bookings through Ticketmaster Australia. More information on the show can be found at the Altar Boyz Australia website.