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Home / Articles / Arts & Entertainment / Theater /  Theater | I Wanted That Praise: Altar Boyz wants to save your soul with smart satire
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Theater | I Wanted That Praise: Altar Boyz wants to save your soul with smart satire

By Rob Tennant
Posted // July 9,2008 - My mom always wanted me to be an altar boy. Pretty much every Sunday at Mass, she would nudge me whenever the frocked youths did something cool like swing the censer during the procession, retrieve the hosts in anticipation of the miracle of transubstantiation, or simply stand next to the kindly old monsignor while acting serene. They just looked bored to me, so I would shake my head and return my attention to my hymnal.

Now if any of that is familiar to you, and you are not sensitive to irreverence, Altar Boyz—the Off-Broadway musical-comedy hit currently making its regional theater debut at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre—is for you. Even if some of the terms I used are foreign to you, rest assured, you’ll laugh plenty.

The show is presented as the final stop on a concert tour by a Christian boy band called, yes, the Altar Boyz, with the terminal “z” aptly demonstrating their level of hipness, or at least their ersatz representation of it. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (Thomas Marcus, Kevin Jordan, Joshua Black, Phillip Lowe and William Richardson, respectively) and they are “Raising the Praise” with all of their songs going out to their Boy, G.O.D. You know, like if N’Sync had originally met in the social hall for coffee and donuts after Mass.

Though the play is a satire, it is not religion itself that’s the primary target of the show’s ridicule. Rather, the targets are the associated trappings thereof, especially where faith meets commerce and its gaudy cousin, pop media. Early in the show, the Boyz’ props start going out not only to the Man Upstairs but also to “The good people at Sony,” with whom the band is involved in a courtship for a record deal.

They have also brought with them on tour the “Soul Sensor DX-12,” a fine Sony product they use to quantify the number of souls in the audience in danger of eternal hellfire at any particular moment. Their goal—and the primary touchstone of the show—is to get the mystical machine to read zero through their special brand of nonthreatening R&B pop magic.

The songs themselves are hilarious. Granted, I was raised nominally Catholic, and even did some time at Catholic school. As a result, I find catchy pop songs riddled with tongue-in-cheek biblical references funny. It’s a soft spot for me.

It’s not just the references, but also their presentations that prove hilarious. The odd-man-out in this group is Abraham, the band’s lyricist and—for reasons that are made amusingly clear—its token Jew. He wears a yarmulke while literally singing the praises of Jesus Christ. To me, that’s already funny, but Altar Boyz reaches a higher plane of cleverness when all the other Boyz’ lyrics come from the Gospels, but Abraham is relegated to Old Testament allusions. It’s that kind of attention to detail that elevates the show from being just fun to being actually good.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some bumps in the road. Joshua Black, as Luke, though very good as the band’s resident idiot meathead, is definitely the show’s weak link as a singer. Likewise, Thomas Marcus—as Matthew, the leader of this not-even-slightly-motley-crew—has the pipes, but when he isn’t singing, he leaves one wondering what accent he is trying for, or if he is even trying for an accent at all.

These minor distractions aside, however, ETC has managed to put on a hell of an entertaining show. I laughed, I grooved and, according to the fine folks at Sony, I was even saved. I’m sure there’s a priest or two at my alma mater who would be pleasantly surprised by that.

ALTAR BOYZ Egyptian Theatre Company, 328 Main, Park City, 435-649-9371. June 27–Aug. 1. EgyptianTheatreCompany.org

 
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