Entertainment » Theatre

Altar Boyz

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Mar 28, 2017
The cast of 'Altar Boyz,' continuing through April 9 at Stoneham Theatre
The cast of 'Altar Boyz,' continuing through April 9 at Stoneham Theatre  (Source:Maggie Hall Photography)

What do you get when you cross "Nunsense" with, say, "Plus One"?

The answer, my friends, is playing on stage at Stoneham Theatre through April 9. "Altar Boyz" is both the title of the musical play and the Christian boy band that is the heart, soul, nucleus, and whole enchilada of the show. The five guys in the band represent a cross-section of musical styles and social demographics, all of which are folded into the show's oddball plot -- a storyline that's built around a "soul sensor" capable of detecting how many of the Lord's lost lambs are in the audience at any given time. The band is putatively on its last stop of a tour dubbed "Raise the Praise," and while sold-out venues are nice and all, they seek a higher goal: A 100% rate of redemption among their audiences.

The "soul sensor" spits out numbers between songs and plot twists, its fluctuating values corresponding to the emotional highs and lows of the storyline, which unfolds as we get to know the guys. Four of them -- Matthew (Michael Levesque), Mark (Michael Jennings Mahoney), Juan (Ricardo D. Holguin), and Luke (Sean Mitchell Crosley) -- are Christian; the fifth fellow, Abraham (Bryan Miner), is Jewish, but that's okay because salvation comes with its own big tent. Matthew -- the leader, and the brains of the outfit -- composes the music; Abraham writes the lyrics; Mark is responsible for the costumes, which makes sense because he's... er... Catholic; he's also gay, not that it's any big thing; and Juan does the choreography. Oh, and Luke, a slightly dull, but aggressive, hip-hop sort, drives the van.


  (Source:Maggie Hall Photography)

The book, by Kevin del Aguila, does manage to tell a story. Through banter, a wide-ranging set list, and dramatic interludes that feel all the more contrived because they supposedly happen live on stage, we learn about the band's origins (there are five different perspectives on this particular Genesis), witness the fallout of a personal tragedy, and are drawn along with the band members to the brink of a betrayal that threatens to demolish the group then and there. The show is mostly silly, and all in good fun; the songs, by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, are serviceable (though there's not a true gem among them) and get the job done, but the real surprise is that littered among the amiable punchlines, character types, and story tropes, there are nuggets of poignance.

Credit the cast as much as anything for that. Levesque asserts a kindly alpha vibe, as much good shepherd to these lads as laid-back frontman. Mahoney's Mark is sweet and believable as Matthew's longtime best friend (and his crush on Matthew, too, carries a tangible sweetness); Crosley, the best dancer of the group, is a charismatic presence -- he needs to be, to compete with his blingy ball cap. Juan has the hardest role, with an in-and-out accent and a tricky emotional scene; he manages both. Miner's Abraham is given the occasionally stereotyped line of dialogue, but somehow he guides you past the cheap laughs to what feels like a place of deeper, if slightly ambiguous, spiritual openness. Like any good singer, they sell you on the songs -- what's harder is to commit to these characters, and under co-directors Tyler Rosati and Ceit Zweil they get a grip on their individual roles and give them shape.


  (Source:Maggie Hall Photography)

Giving shape to the dancing is choreographer and co-director Ceit Zweil, who knows how a boy band should move. The actors strut some fairly complex stuff in Zweil's creations, but those challenging moves spark up the proceedings and make the show dynamic.

Matthew Stern's music direction makes the most of the show's twelve songs -- a neat album's worth, and the same number as the apostles; fancy that. There's no problem hearing the lyrics or the four-man orchestra. This charming little ditty fills an hour and a half, wisely knows how not to overstay its welcome, and imparts a lesson in faith -- namely, how you pray and the name you use for God is less the point of spiritual wisdom than the loyalty and compassion you owe your fellow men, be they band mates or anyone else.


"Altar Boyz" continues through April 9 at Stoneham Theatre. For tickets and more information, please go to https://www.stonehamtheatre.org


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


Comments on Facebook