Theatergoers around here sure have been getting a strong dose of religion lately. First came Godspell from City Rep, and now Pollard Theatre Company is presenting Altar Boyz. Going to the theater these days reminds us sinners that we’re backsliders.
In Altar Boyz (Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, music and lyrics; Kevin Del Aguila, book), the conceit is that the show is the last concert on a tour by the Ohio-based Christian rock band Altar Boyz.
Someone who wanders unknowingly into the Pollard Theatre might think the show they’re seeing is really such a concert until the boys unveil a device called the Soul Sensor DX-12, which measures the “metaphysical temperature” in the room and calculates how many troubled souls are present (259 at the reviewed performance). The lads in the band then proceed to cleanse these sinners’ souls through song and dance. Well, that’s a lot better than hellfire and brimstone.
Altar Boyz is a lightweight show, but if you listen carefully to the lyrics, the creators are taking their digs at contemporary religion and society. So, do they have anything new to say? Alas, no.
But Pollard’s production benefits from some definite strengths. Timothy Stewart’s direction and Jennifer Rosson’s choreography meld seamlessly.
Every number is highly choreographed, and Rosson’s dances range from camp to corn to conflagration. They’re always effective and often a lot of fun. James A. Hughes’ scenic design, Michael James’ costumes and lighting design by W. Jerome Stevenson and Michael Long give the production the authenticity of a show by a band that drives its own van between gigs.
The production’s biggest failure is in sound, which is inexplicably weak. This is a rock musical that’s not loud enough, sapping the show of much-needed power.
But all that staging and design would be window dressing without the fine, exceedingly energetic performances by the cast playing ecumenical band members Matthew (Austin J. Morris), Mark (Nicholas Hunter), Luke (Clayton Blair), Juan (Matthew Morales) and Abraham (Jared Blount). What, no Suleiman? Maybe in Altar Boyz II.
The cast has fully bought into Stewart’s concept for the show and executes Rosson’s choreography with authority, energy and style. The music ranges from pop to rock to hip-hop to soul (in more than one sense), and each actor gets a big number.
This production seems scruffier and less pretentious than Lyric Theatre’s staging of Altar Boyz two years ago at the Plaza Theatre; thus, the Pollard’s is funnier and more satisfying. So, has Stewart found an unexpected edginess in the show? Is Rosson’s choreography more visceral? One could give them the benefit of the doubt and say yes. Or a second viewing of the show could be influenced by that phenomenon known in theatrical circles as the Law of Low Expectations.
Either way, with the Pollard production, you’re in and out of Altar Boyz in an entertaining, enjoyable 90 minutes.