Friday, December 11, 2009

Back to the Altar

I saw the off-Broadway musical Altar Boyz around the time it first opened in 2005. I loved the show, set up like a Christian boy band concert, but I hadn't been back since. It was recently announced that the show will close on January 10, so I revisited it last Wednesday, curious how it's held up over the years.

Shortly before the show began, I looked around at the not even half-full Stage 4 at New World Stages and I realized why Altar Boyz is closing. It's had a long and successful run for an off-Broadway show, but perhaps it has since gotten lost in the shuffle of newer shows and can no longer fill enough seats to justify staying open.

As in any boy band, each Altar Boy has a defining characteristic. There is Matthew (Michael Kadin Craig) the attractive one, Mark (Travis Nesbitt) the closeted gay one, Luke (Lee Markham) the bad boy, Juan (Mauricio Perez) the Latin one, and Abraham (Ravi Roth) the Jewish one. There is a paper-thin plot about how the band needs to save the souls of everyone in the audience before the end of the concert (there is a Soul Sensor DX-12 to check what number they are at). The enjoyment comes from Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker's catchy pop songs that, except for the Christian-themed lyrics, easily sound like they could have been recorded by 'N Sync or the Backstreet Boys, and Christopher Gattelli's choreography that perfectly captures the ridiculous over-the-top dance moves made popular by boy bands.

So the question is: has it stood the test of time? Yes and no. The boy band trend was already past its heyday by 2005, but the show didn't seem dated then at it still doesn't. However, seeing a show in a full house really makes a big difference. The audience didn't seem as engaged and many of the jokes fell flat (I remember the laughs being non-stop the first time I attended). Again, I think the show is still funny, but laughter is infectious and the bigger the audience, the bigger the laughs, in my experience. Let me say that the cast played as if the theater was at capacity. They never let their energy falter. Unfortunately, even giving it their all, they didn't have the dynamic presence of the original cast. The acting as a whole was stronger than the singing, and for this reason, they were funnier in the book scenes.

This show is still a lot of fun. If you haven't seen Altar Boyz, you should really catch it before it closes, and I'm guessing with the holidays coming, the houses will start to fill. As an off-Broadway staple that can appeal to both out-of-towners and New Yorkers, it will be missed, but on the upside, it will only make room for more shows that will hopefully be just as clever and entertaining as this one.

Note: I was invited to see the show for free.

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