It goes with unwavering certainty that attending the Altar Boyz’ "Raise the Praise" performance, now touring through Park City, would at least be a stunning visual treat. But the real treat is that this Catholic-American boy band shares the word of God through song with such satirical piety and blasphemous conviction that it’s like sitting with the boyz au naturel in a tub of holy water and Mr. Bubbles, cleansing our sins.
Matthew (Thomas Marcus) is the handsome leader, the tie that binds the band and the object of Mark’s (Kevin Jordan) flaming affection. Luke (Joshua Joel Black) is the band’s bad boy — the white homie — who is temperamental, slow-witted and whose bouts of "exhaustion" tend to put him into recovery. Juan (Phillip R. Lowe) is the token racial minority of the group, and Abraham (William Richardson) is their young, wide-eyed Jewish songwriter.
Backed by drums, keyboards and a guitarist on stage, the Altar Boyz create heavenly harmony with every song. Gary Alder and Michael Patrick Walker’s music and lyrics are high-octane and sacrilegious respectively — like "Rhythm in Me" and particularly "Number 918" — even the least religious person would fear eternal damnation for sitting through this song.
The show is fast-paced — the boyz saving all the sinners in about 80 minutes (including themselves in classic boy band revelation). Between the musical numbers, however, it feels a few of the scenes are just unnecessary filler and the humor is forced. On the other hand, Juan’s misunderstanding of the English term "ass," which could possibly end the existence of carrots, is popular crass humor; and the scene in which Juan learns the fate of his parents is well played out — Mark retreating a squeaky cart is classic Lucille Ball formula.
Kudos to choreographer Michelle Hunt Robbins who captures the essence of boy-band dance. The methodical unification, the tight movement and sharp edges, and the high groove factor are all there. The boyz’ good looks and execution of each dance number is hotter than 98°; in fact picture hundreds of naive prepubescent girls screaming and waving handmade posters pleading "Marry Me Mark?" and homosexual men swaying, eyes peeled, daydreaming "Wham bam … oh yeah, Abraham!"
Phillip R. Lowe, who plays Juan, also serves as the production’s costume designer. Abraham dressed in a T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Ezekiel" and Mark’s mega-gay white trousers (that are so ’90s) are decent comic effects.
The production, directed by L.L. West, contains some audience interaction, which in the case of a concert setting is appropriate — however, as of late, it seems many theatergoers are less than enchanted with the concept. Perhaps they want to be lost in the story, not literally pulled into it.
The Utah premiere of the Off-Broadway hit has a possibility of not being a huge success, and certainly by no fault of the Egyptian Theatre Company or the boyz themselves. Utah’s abundant number of religious radicals would sooner walk out wasting the $30 ticket than risk losing their free ticket through the Pearly Gates.
Then again, with so many of us apparently beyond retribution, we may as well praise the Altar Boyz over and over again … the boyz have earned it. Q
Performances run through Aug. 2 at Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main Street, Park City. Tickets $23–34, call 435-649-9371 or visit parkcityshows.com.