COURTESY 'ALTAR BOYZ'
The Boyz hit the road: Clockwise from top are Juan, Mark, Luke, Matthew and Abraham, members of a Christian boy band, in the off-Broadway production "Altar Boyz," which plays in Hawaii beginning Wednesday.
Jumpin’ on the (boy) bandwagon
Art imitates life for 'Altar Boyz' star Matthew Buckner
Don't hate him because he's beautiful. Or talented. Or the head of an earnest boy band doing the bidding of God. The self-described -- nudge, nudge, wink, wink -- "pretty boy" of the group, Matthew Buckner in character as Matthew in "Altar Boyz," bears a certain resemblance to another boy band leader of yesteryear.
» On stage: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday
» Place: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
» Tickets: $26 to $75
» Call: 528-0506
He is the Justin of the group. Not the shorn, smoldering Justin Timberlake getting all "SexyBack" with the ladies, but he of the blond curly 'do and sweet denim outfits. You know -- Justin Timberlake of *N Sync.
"Some might disagree with the "'pretty boy' part," inserted Buckner, 28, slyly into a phone call from Tempe, Ariz. "But he is the standout. Timberlake is the one most likely to go solo."
And who is Buckner to disagree?
Don't take the mischievous Buckner or his band mates' coordinating outfits too seriously. The tongue-in-cheek attitude keeps in tune with the rhythm of "Altar Boyz," the story of a struggling Christian boy band that pokes a little fun at the nature of the boy band mill. Underneath all that gelled hair are five good-natured boys from Ohio -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham -- spreading the Gospel and the theme of general inclusion venue by venue.
"It's not blasphemous," said Buckner. "It's none of those things. It's a light-hearted comedy with a beautiful message."
The production takes place in real time, with the "Altar Boyz" supposedly playing the last show of a tour. Expect to hear greetings of "Hello, Honolulu!"
"The irony is the boys are supposed to be playing to middle schools and 800-seat venues, but the production is actually playing in 2,200-seat theaters," said Buckner.
Buckner has gone the struggling boy band route in real life. The former New York resident settled in boy band central -- Orlando, Fla. -- after a stint at the University of Central Florida, and took on jobs as a singer/dancer in two short-lived bands, Truly Yours and Premiere. It was one of Buckner's Truly Yours band mates, Scott Porter, the original Matthew in the New York production of "Altar Boyz," who helped Buckner get the role in the touring group.
"He put in a good word for me when I auditioned for it," said Buckner.
The off-Broadway production began last October, and a stop at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles included a what-can-go-wrong, will-go-wrong scenario.
About 20 minutes into a show, the sound went out, and the cast resorted to hand-held mikes. Attempts at choreography went sour after the snakelike cords became tangled, eventually turning into a large, gnarled mass in the middle of the stage.
"It was just a huge mess of cords, and we got wrapped up in one another," said Buckner. "The audience laughed with us."
Los Angeles Daily News critic Evan Henerson gave the run at the Wadsworth a three-star review: "Christian boy bands gone wild," he summarized. "They may not 'alter your mind,' as promised, but they'll supply plenty of laughs."
Critic's comment: "There's nothing in 'Altar Boyz' that would offend the faithful, but the genius of the show is that it walks not just one thin line, but several, and all at the same time. Is it mocking religion? Not really. But it does suggest that blind, unexamined beliefs can't really exercise any lasting impact on our lives." --David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle