If Altar Boyz hadn’t been conceived by Marc Kessler & Ken Davenport and directed by Troy Magino for Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Center, some non-denominational kid would have had to invent it.
And it would have rocketed to number one on YouTube.
A mash-up of the wit of Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag, the swagger of telegenic Jimmy Swaggart sermons, the plyometrics of a workout video, and the social networking possibilities sold in a T Mobile commercial, the show is holy and rolling.
Think Guys and Dolls as a Jockey underwear commercial.
Pious peeps would critique how the production’s entertainment values pre-empt religious ones.
But, as Billy Joel crooned in Only the Good Die Young, who’s got time to be pious?
Troy Magino ensures that this show grinds. He’s got a great cast, a perfectly plausible story, and 15 wonderful songs with which to work.
Five small town in synch boys, toothsome and teethy, impossibly chiseled, Matthew (James Royce Edwards), Mark (Danny Calvert), Luke (Tyler McGee), Juan (Dan Domenech) and, yes, Abraham (Dan Pacheco), perform a save the souls concert in New York.
To chart their progress they install a meter that counts down the number of lost souls.
Naturally the boys aren’t perfect (hence the countdown flub). Naturally they struggle with their own issues.
We identify with them with our minds but the show tugs at our feet.
The songs are exquisitely rendered. The live band in the center of the stage gives the production an in your face immediacy. God is here, there, and everywhere.
Each musical number not only brings us closer to zero lost souls, it also gives us a back-story on the boyz.
Hilarious songs abound. One describes their conversions. One lists the benefits of pre-marital celibacy. Another tells of the tribulations of coming out of the closet to admit that one is...Catholic.
The songs were energetic, they were foot-tapping. They mined contemporary lodes. They’re hip, they’re hippy, hippy like low-slung jeans and high-slung boxers. Each carried a furious rhythm; they were the terpsichorean equivalent of speaking in tongues. I don’t know if they brought us closer to the Holy Spirit but they did take us to our lactate threshold.
The performances rocked as well. And that’s the gospel truth. Five more unlikely souls you’ll never meet. But once they gelled, they bounced, literally, off each other.
At moments their harmonies made them a heavenly choir. But it was the visuals - sculptural and sculpted, a marketer’s wet dream - that made the show. At the end they formed a peppy Pieta.
Edwards the earnest Matthew. Calvert the twittery Mark. Domenech the sizzling Juan. McGee the aerobic Luke. And Pacheco’s stalwart Abraham.
Did the boyz purge us of our sins? Cathartic as the show was, it did make me gluttonous: gluttonous for more.
Performances are Thu. – Sat., 8 PM, Sat & Sun, 2 PM. The show runs until May 6. Tickets are $25-52. The Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 Atherton St. For more information call 856-1999, ext 4, or visit www.musical.org.