By Michele Markarian
Altar Boyz – Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Book by Kevin Del Aguila. Co-Directed by Tyler Rosati and Ceit Zweil, with Music Direction by Matthew Stern. Presented by Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, through April 9.
The first image one gets of the Altar Boyz is five hooded figures in long white robes, silver crosses on their backs, entering the stage to ominous sounding music from the four-piece band behind them. It’s a Spinal Tap moment, and one that made me laugh out loud. For the next eighty minutes, if I wasn’t laughing, I was smiling. A lot. This is one super fun show with a tight and talented cast.
The Altar Boyz are a Christian rock group of five men, four Catholics and one Jew – Luke, Juan, Matthew, Mark and Abraham. They have been touring the country, and this show is ostensibly their last one of the tour. Their goal is to reduce the number of souls burdened with sin down to zero; this they can do with the help of a special machine from Sony, a tour sponsor, called the Soul Sensor DX-12. Their songs and stories, meant to inspire, are filled with their own personal struggles, which, through faith, they have managed to overcome. As the show progresses, however, it is apparent that some members of the group are not without sin themselves.
“No star is as bright as its constellation; no harmony in a single voice”, intones God to the band at their beginning. This is the one thing the Altar Boyz can agree on – otherwise, their origins have a Rashoman quality to them, so much so that each band member’s very different, very funny version is re-enacted onstage. The songs are often comical and very clever – any song with a lyric of “Jesus called me on my cellphone” gets my attention pretty quickly, as did the constant refrain of “PUT IT IN ME” during a number called “Rhythm in Me”. The Altar Boyz break the fourth wall fairly frequently, interacting, joking and flirting with the audience.
Rosati and Zweil have assembled a likeable and extremely talented cast. Sean Mitchell Crosley brings energy and passion to the character of Luke, probably the most rock n’ roll of the Boyz. Ricardo D. Holguin is hilarious as the orphaned Juan, the most overtly sexual of the group. Michael Levesque’s Matthew, the leader of the Altar Boyz, is serious and sincere. Michael Jennings Mahoney is adorable as Mark, the closeted “Catholic”. Bryan Miner brings a bumbling physicality and depth to Abraham. All five men have gorgeous voices, and each is able to showcase their considerable vocal abilities with a solo song. The nice surprise though, especially for a musical comedy, is that they are all terrific actors as well, giving the last song, “I Believe”, and the moments leading up to it, an emotional charge that I didn’t expect.
“Altar Boyz” actually works on a few levels. Despite their Christianity, the members of the band are made up of different ethnicities and orientations, yet they all manage to love each other and get along. There’s no discernible truth to their history, as each band member carries a different story that he believes is real, which I related to the Bible and the different versions of stories it’s comprised of. Many unsavory things have been enacted by so-called Christians – current administration, anyone? – but the message in the musical, despite the fun, is one we can all benefit from. No star is as bright as its constellation; no harmony in a single voice. Now go and love one another! And see the Altar Boyz – you’ll love them, too. For more info, go to: https://www.stonehamtheatre.org/altar-boyz.html