COURTESY ALTAR BOYZ
The well-written musical "Altar Boyz" manages to balance on the fine line between satirical comedy and reality.
‘Altar Boyz’ wins in spoofing boy bands, Christian pops
Boy bands and contemporary Christian pop music are both such easy targets for satire that's it no surprise that "Altar Boyz," a well-written musical about a Christian boy band, works as straight comedy.
When: Continues at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Hawaii Theatre
Cost: Tickets are $26 to $75
The most impressive thing about this fast-moving 90-minute production is how it successfully spoofs both genres while sounding very close to the real thing. Make a few relatively minor changes in the second half of the show, and a church crowd would quickly accept this thoroughly engaging quintet -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham -- as a real Christian boy band.
The lead-off song, "We Are the Alter Boyz," would be a great opener for any act, and gets the show off to a rousing start. Several others also impart familiar mainstream Christian messages, including the threats posed by the temptations of Satan. "Everybody Fits" invites one and all to "join God's family," while with "Body, Mind & Soul" the group cautions against placing material concerns ("the clothes ... the perfect body ...") ahead of God.
There's even a cloyingly sweet number about the virtues of abstinence until marriage.
These songs would play almost perfectly for most born-again teens, but listen closely and it's evident that the songwriters, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, are excellent satirists as well.
Adler, Walker and playwright Kevin Del Aguila capture that aspect of the genre perfectly with both dialogue and lyrics. "The Miracle Song" recounts several of Christ's feats with an effective but dated hip-hop arrangement, and the Boyz's dialogue is laced with words and phrases that are -- well, when was the last time someone in Honolulu used the word "phat" in normal conversation?
Unlike oldies shows in which music and social conventions of the 1950s and '60s are held up for ridicule, "Altar Boyz" treats its subject matter with respect. Dialogue and lyrics are earnest and tongue-in-cheek hilarious at the same time. "Who needs a GED? I've got my B-I-B-L-E!" one character proudly proclaims. Another recalls how "Jesus called me on my cell phone/No roaming charges were incurred," and in another song we learn that "God put sinners down in hell 'cause they did not improve/God put the rhythm in me so I could bust a move."
Yet another song describes leprosy as "a whack disease that makes a homie fall apart."
Mass-market bands are notorious for being assembled with commercial considerations in mind -- start with a blond Caucasian, add one or more brunette Caucasians and one or more minorities. The Altar Boyz claim a slightly different pedigree as they were assembled by God, but the results are pretty much the same, and this quartet is an impressively talented bunch:
» Matthew (Matthew Buckner), the blond and buff spokesman.
» Mark (Ryan J. Ratliff), the powerful high tenor who is obviously "flamboyant" and transparently attracted to Matthew.
» Luke (Jesse JP Johnson), the rough-edged "B-Boy," back with the group after being treated for "exhaustion" at the New Horizon Rejuvenation Center.
» Juan (Jay Garcia) gives the Boyz their Latin edge. "La Vida Eternal" is one of his big numbers.
» Abraham (Ryan Strand) isn't sure why God insisted that he be a member of the Altar Boyz -- he's Jewish, you see, and wears a yarmulke throughout, but he is also the group's lyricist.
One-liners and even-handed observations on religion add other memorable moments to this superb comedy. "Don't mention evolution," one of the Boyz says when another mentions how the group has "evolved."
When asked if Jews are allowed in churches, Abraham replies that "there's one on the cross over the altar!"
Children won't get the humor in references to Mel Gibson and Oscar Wilde, in Mary being "magdalicious," or a number that involves an Orthodox Jewish lamb hand puppet, but these bits and others help make "Altar Boyz" a best bet for open-minded adults.