Altar Boyz debuted in New York City in 2004, right after the late-’90s, early-’00s boom of boy bands that brought us the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and 98 Degrees. While acts like those are no longer a dominating force on the pop charts, is there still a reason to go see a musical that satirizes them?
The answer, when taking the Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production into consideration, is definitely yes. There’s enough to recommend Altar Boyz even if you don’t know all of the old boy-band tropes — or, for that matter, the parts of a mass (though knowledge of both will certainly help you understand some of the jokes).
The show isn’t so much a plot-driven musical as it is a concert or revue. (In a way, this makes it like a male Nunsense, which was also performed recently at the WBT.) In its opening number, the Altar Boyz — made up of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham — explain that they’re a pop act with a Catholic bent, aiming to save the souls of the audience through catchy and intricately choreographed dance numbers with names like “Church Rulez.” In this way, the show balances two parodies: of boy bands, obviously, and also of Christian-to-mainstream pop-cultural crossovers.
The format of the show — which is short, and presented without intermission — means that there isn’t much room for plot conflict, tension, or character development. (There’s some, but it’s bare-bones.) Don’t expect heavy catharsis or, as The Simpsons once described fine theater, “people coming to terms with things.”
If all you’re looking for is the fun part of a musical — singing and dancing and some silly jokes — then Altar Boyz is for you. The small, five-member cast has the boy-band thing down, from the way they pose (always in some kind of triangular formation), to the way they dress (lots of rhinestone crosses), to their make-up (featuring the standard boy-band collection of the leader, the bad boy, the vaguely Latin one, and so on), to the way they dance.
It’s the dancing, actually, that’s most impressive. It references the types of moves you’d see from the New Kids on the Block. And it’s really, really good. As the cast demonstrates off the bat in the song “Rhythm in Me,” they can do anything Justin Timberlake can (and possibly better; Travis Morin, who plays Luke, is a standout dancer). Director Carlos Encinias came to the world of theater through choreography, and it’s apparent in his staging of the show.
So, yes, while the jokes and songs are amusing, the show really gets cooking when the cast just starts getting down. And, sometimes, that’s all you’re in the mood to really see, anyway.
Altar Boyz runs through September 18.