Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz is a silly, raucous romp of a show with good intentions and even better execution. If great direction, flash dancing and pelvic thrusting urban choreography would get us through the Pearly Gates, then the Altar Boyz would high step their way in with bumps and grinds to spare.

The story is silly and lightweight, but when it comes to the serious pursuit of getting audience members to be counted among the celestial few, then heaven help us because they will not stop until all are redeemed, at least according to the all knowing “soul sensor” that counts down and tallies the remaining errant non-believers with every musical interlude. No prayer is too small or bend and snap too deep for this five-some, appropriately named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan, and then there’s Abraham, sporting a gold yarmulke, no less. Yes, there are definitely some stories to be shared on the way to salvation with this righteous crew.

Cast of Altar Boyz, from left, Zack Powell as Abraham; Edward C. Nagel as Mark; Jonathan Walker as Juan; Derek Tatum as Luke; and BJ Gruber as Matthew. (Photo: Brad Kalbfeld)

In their final “Raise the Praise” tour, the guys tell their stories through songs like the syncopated “Rhythm in Me” and the “Church Rulez” as each shares his journey of becoming one of the Boyz.

With pious looks and sincere expressions, B.J. Gruber as Matthew comes across as a devoted follower and leader of the flock. He’s got the strongest personae and burning desire to save souls, so I pity the wretched fool who tries to escape his soul-saving gaze.

Edward C. Nagel as Mark has the freshly scrubbed look of a well-coifed cherub and tells his tale of being picked on unmercifully at school for being “different.” He has a sweet iridescent glow when in the spotlight sharing his “Epiphany.”

Derek Tatum’s Luke adds levity by seeming residually stoned from frequent relapses in rehab from “exhaustion.” Jonathan Walker as Juan adds a Latin flair and shares a tender tale about seeking his biological family after being raised in an orphanage. Finally, Zack Powell is a slightly built yet physically explosive Abraham who provides some acrobatic flips and turns—quite appropriate considering how the character has reconciled his heritage with this Christian boy band.

Altar Boyz
Closes December 30, 2-12
1st Stage Theatre
1524 Spring Hill Road
McLean, VA 22102
1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission
Tickets: $30
Fridays thru Sundays

The catchy tunes and zany lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker bring today’s 30-second attention spans and lust for the latest gadgetry into focus as the guys opine about Jesus contacting them on Facebook and tweeting them. Meanwhile, the Van Halen looking image of Jesus looks like he could tie his flowing mane back in a pony tail and rock the house, great sound design by Derek V. Knoderer.

The band is particularly strong, loud enough to keep the place popping without drowning out the singers who sing well enough but they dance even better. The high energy choreography by Jeremy McShan could pop out of the latest music video, with hints of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” thrown in for kicks. At the helm of “The Band N*Saint, is musical director Walter McCoy also on a keyboard, with J.Michael d’Haviland on another keyboard, Nate Wilkinson smacks a mean guitar, and Jim Hofmann assures a funky beat on the drums. Lighting Designer David A. Sexton accents the stage with bright, flashy lights, and a hazy mist adds to the star-power. Steven Royal’s fast-paced direction works wonderz along with his set design and punk rock costumes.

Altar Boyz will provide a fun reprieve from shopping purgatory with an ending that reminds us that caring relationships are really what matter, that we’re stronger together than alone, and that when times get particularly rough, pump up the volume and bust a move in prayer. Works every time.


Altar Boyz . Book by Kevin Del Aguila . Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler. Directed by Steven Royal . Produced by 1st Stage . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson

Other reviews

Barbara Mackay . Washington Examiner
David Siegel . Connection
Julia L. Exline . DCMetroTheaterArts

Debbie Minter Jackson About Debbie Minter Jackson

Debbie Minter Jackson is a writer and has performed in musical theater for decades. Originally from Chicago, she has hit stages throughout the Midwest and the Washington, D.C. area including the Kennedy Center in productions with the legendary Mike Malone. Her scripts have been commissioned and produced by the old Source Theater and festivals in New York. She is a member of the play reading and discussion group Footlights and the Black Women Playwrights’ Group. By day she happily works in a federal public health agency as a Senior Program Analyst and is in blissful partnership with her Bill.



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