Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 19, 2009

Altar Boyz

City Stage, Springfield
Through March 22
Review by R.E Smith

If shows like "Phantom" or "Company" are a piece of rich, devil's food cake then "Altar Boyz" can only be compared to a light, fluffy piece of Angel food. The latter makes a tasty dessert, but it isn't quite as filling or substantive as the former.

Like a good sitcom premise, the show can be summed up in one line: Catholic boy band. Matthew, Mark, Luke, Abraham and, um, Juan were brought together by the Almighty to spread his word through "rhythm and rhyme." The performers are all hard working and some are successful at showing hints of humanity behind their stereotypes. Philip Drennen, as the group's sincere, sensitive leader, kept things grounded in his own earnest reality.

A real stand out here is the choreography. The "Boyz" come across as a combination of Vegas dancers and NFL cheerleaders. Pay close attention to the "hand moves" and you'll find gang symbols replaced with signs of the cross and genuflections.

The music is certainly well constructed; the melodies cover all the pop music archetypes from power ballads to catchy dance tracks. "The Miracle Song" is a snappy rap that asks Jesus "how’d you do 'dat?" and "Number 918" finds the boys performing a melodic exorcism on the few remaining audience members who haven’t yet heard the call. Sample song lyric: "Jesus called me on my cell phone, no roaming charges were incurred, He told me that I should go out in the world, and spread His glorious word."

For those who have seen late-night commercials for CDs of Christian rock, it's clear that these lyrics are not actually that far removed from their comedic target. Because of that fact, the audience is never quite sure if everyone is harshly ridiculing the genre or gently mocking it with tender affection. It's also unsure who the primary object of ridicule is; boy bands, Christian music or Catholics in general. There are plenty of opportunities to laugh, and the 90-minute show moves along so quickly. After all, who can eat just one piece of Angel food cake?