My niece, Erika, who is visiting from Ontario, and who will be attending a performing arts high school starting this September, has pretty sophisticated musical theatre tastes. But she's also a teenager who, while disdaining the Justin Biebers of this world, nevertheless has her boy band fixations--One Direction, from the UK, apparently being her current obsession. So after last week's visit to TUTS to see The Music Man, we decided an appropriate bookend on an overcast last day in the city would be to catch a matinee of Altar Boyz, which is back playing at the Arts Club Revue Stage on Granville Island after a successful production in 2009 directed by Bill Millerd.
A 90-minute confection of pop-style songs packaged around the premise of four good Catholic boys and one honorary Jew rocking it out on a cross-country tour in praise of the man upstairs, the work actually treads the line between irony and sincerity surprisingly well. There are lots of knowing jokes (though none, interestingly, about groping priests), and what suspense there is in terms of plot hinges in part around whether or not Mark (Geoff Stevens), who is closeted, will reveal his love for the band's de facto leader, Matthew (Jeremy Crittenden). Instead, in the disco-tinged power ballad "Epiphany" (which contains musical allusions to Helen Ready and Effie from Dreamgirls, among others), he comes out as a loud and proud Catholic. It's a very funny moment, but in a way that doesn't condescend to different kinds of believers (be it in God or in Gloria Gaynor) in the audience.
And while I can't say that any of the tunes by the composing team of Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker (the book is by Kevin Del Aguila) have stuck in my head, the high octane performances by the entire cast--including fleet-footed Jak Barradell (and his abs) as Luke, the charismatic Michael Culp (and his pecs) as the orphaned Mexican Juan, and beat-box Brandyn Eddy (and his yarmulke) as Abraham--were uniformly impressive. Both Erika and I agreed afterwards that, as musicals go, we still preferred a classic like The Music Man. But as audience members yesterday at Altar Boyz, we also had heaps of fun.