book by Kevin Del Aguila
music/lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker
choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
directed by Stafford Arima
produced by Nederlander of Bethesda, L.L.C. at Bethesda Theatre
reviewed by Gary McMillan
Get thee to this concert musical for 90 minutes of nonstop laughter! Altar Boyz is a freshly scrubbed, squeaky clean Windex to the … er, window to the soul, as delivered by the latter day Herman’s Hermeneutics or Dave Cleric Five.
So how do you handle a problem like a Midwestern evangelical Christian boy band? How do you sustain the show’s premise, a one trick pony (say, a cute 5 minute SNL skit), into a full-length musical? First, start with superior craftsmen, Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Their music is one chart-topping catchy melody after another with lyrics that are drop dead deadpan funny. Second, add the talents of Stafford Arima (direction) and Christopher Gattelli (choreography) who rock the show with an engaging MTV sensibility, along with Carlos Encinias as their associate director/choreographer. Both Arima and Gattelli have impressive strings of award-winning work in New York and London. Arima cleverly weaves in the back story of these Greenville, Ohio erstwhile evangelical Backstreet Boys. Gattelli’s synchronized dances perfectly complement the songs and are a joy from start to finish with all the familiar music video moves and some wacko faith-based innovations.
Finally, insist on first rate performers. Here the Good News is delivered by Jared Zirilli as Matthew, Patrick Elliot as Mark, Travis Morin as Luke, Michael Busillo as Juan, and David R. Gordon as Abraham. Overall, you’re in for an H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks of a good time.
Zirilli is the hunky lead singer (congrats for joining Actors Equity with this show) who works his dreamy good looks to comedic advantage, especially on his ode to chastity, “Something About You” – the finish will have you rolling on the floor.
Elliot is another testament to the consistency with which Catholic University graduates first rate musical theatre talent. Costume designer Hillary Paul has clothed Elliot (as Mark) in a unique drag grunge style, rhinestones and pink, setting him up as a target for Episcopalian thugs (High Church, indeed). He has great comic timing.
Morin is the muscled-up B-boy member of the ensemble on the rebound from rehab (for exhaustion, of course). He pops; he raps; he drives the van.
Busillo adds Latin machismo as Juan, and a touch of pathos as he yearns to find the parents who abandoned him on the church doorstep. A little bit Ricky Martin, a little bit Ricky Ricardo.
Gordon as Abraham carries the ecumenical burden, the lone Jew in the crew, although he aptly points out that he’s not the only Jew hanging around the church, so to speak.
And as the voice of the Almighty, it’s ole “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” himself.
There’s not a weak voice in the cast. The harmonies are as tight as the jeans – I mean, as the choreography, and the band is jamming. Despite the seemingly thin premise, you’ll actually wish the show were twice as long. So see it twice! It’s an indulgence even Martin Luther would approve.
Running time: 1:30, no intermission
When: Now thru Dec 2nd. Wed thru Sat at 8 pm; matinees: Sat & Sun at 2 pm
Where: Bethesda Theatre, 7719 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814
Tickets: $40 – $75. Order by calling the box office 301 657-7827 or order online
More Info: Altar Boyz DC website