Review by Polly Wittenberg (Feb 2005)
Note: Cast has changed since this review!
In a week when the lead story in the News in Review section of the New York Times is all about “The Faith Factor: Putting God Back Into American History”, it’s good to have the sparky, irreverent new musical Altar Boyz, dedicated to the proposition that all things religious are worth spoofing, opening at Theater 4 of the Dodger Stages.
Here are five lively kids from the ‘hood, appropriately named Matthew, Mark, Luke, (politically-correct) Juan, and Abraham (the token Jew), playing a rock band just off a nationwide tour which has come to save New York City (or at least the audience) in their last scheduled performance. And they bring along their secret weapon—a soul sensor—that is hidden under a purple drape (marked “Thou shalt not touch”) until the show begins. There is virtually no plot involved, and the procession of clever rock numbers may not bring peace but they sure provide 90 intermissionless minutes of fun.
The set by Anna Louizos, a four-piece orchestra plunked down in the middle of some schoolyard fences and bleachers, looks like a stripped-down version of a show in City Center’s Encores series of musical revivals. Yet the sleek hip-hop choreography of Christopher Gattelli seems unconstrained by the small space in which it is performed. That’s because of the smooth direction of Stafford Arima and the boundless energy of the attractive cast—Scott Porter, Tyler Maynard, Andy Karl, Ryan Duncan and David Josefsberg. Famed DJ Shadoe Stevens puts in an appearance as the voice (recorded) of God.
The music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker are catchy and intelligent and run the full gamut of rock styles from anthems to ballads to ethnic to rhythm and blues to up-tempo beats. Whether it’s songs about how God put the Rhythm in Me, or the genesis of the Altar Boyz and how the group evolved—oops—was created, or a touching number about “coming out” (it’s not what you think!), the spirit is strong and wise. (There are also enough references to SONY for the producers to have received a big product-placement payment. I wonder which record firm is doing the original cast album.)
But parents needn’t worry about bringing the kids. This show is squeaky clean. No bad words. No sex. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear The Calling (“Jesus called me on my cell phone…”) or Something About You (“Girl, you make me want to wait…”) included in the Sunday services broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral some time soon.
Go and enjoy!
“It makes a nice sound, looks pretty (if you like pretty boys) and sends you home with a smile.”
Charles Isherwood for the New York Times
"Altar Boyz" is a long joke. That's what musicals seem to be these days. With excellent direction and choreography, though, "Altar Boyz" keeps you laughing all evening long. "
Howard Kissel for the New York Daily News
"This cheerfully harmless musical boasts a one-joke premise, but the joke is sufficiently well-executed and funny to make the slight evening entertaining."
Frank Scheck for the New York Post
"Devout service of rousing silliness."
Gordon Cox for NewsDay
"It should be preaching to enthusiastic crowds for some time to come."
Michael Kuchwara for Associated Press