BOY BANDS ARE SPOOFED IN THIS TUNEFUL, HILARIOUS RELIGIOUS ROMP, KEITH PINTO’S
DANCE AND DIRECTION IS SIZZLING
The boy crush hit ALTAR BOYZ opens the summer theater season with a nonstop pop high energy show at The Center Rep. Now on stage at the Margaret Lesher stage in Walnut Creek through July 1st. The Boyz are in town and they bring “the Lord” center stage in this vibrant spoof of their final concert from five talented Roman Catholic altar boys. There's certainly no lack of infectious energy in this upbeat production of the award-winning 2004 musical with a book by Kevin Del Aguila and music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Five is a lucky number for striking gold in harmony that has worked for boy bands including ’N Sync, One Direction and Backstreet Boys. Director and choreographer Ken Pinto has scored five keen young men to play the Boyz, who are all top-notch performers: Josh Ditto, William Hoshida, Sean Okuniewicz, Justin Sabino and Tyce. The superb music director Ben Prince and his on stage band keep this 90 minute upbeat funky score for the Lord a gem.
We join the Altar Boyz on the last night of their "Raise the Praise" national tour of church halls and community centers. With the aid of a digital "Soul Sensor DX-12" machine, the Boyz' goal each night is to save every troubled soul in the auditorium and the Walnut Creek sold out opening night goal was 297.
The group opens with “We Are The Altar Boyz” and this lively number sets the tone for the show. The Boyz are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan (a Tijuana orphan with a thick Spanish accent) and Abraham (who's Jewish). The Boyz have been called by God to spread the "good news." In fact, they were literally called. "Jesus called me on my cell phone," one after another the Boyz confess in the musical number, "The Calling." In a song thanking Jesus for their talents, the quintet rhyme to the son of God to "put it in me." "It" being rhythm, and the almost dozen songs are non stop.
As Matthew, the quintet’s' founder and praise leader, the accomplished Sean Oruniwicz is charismatic, endearing and earnest, as well as amusingly oblivious to Mark's not-too-secret crush. Local favorite Justin Sabino is convincingly terrific as as the break-dancing Luke, the band's not-too-bright van driver, fresh from rehab for a bout with "exhaustion." Each boy shines in their solo numbers and Sabino is a show stopper in “Body Mind & Soul” bringing Pinto’s synchronized choreography front and center. The direction and pace he keeps the Boyz at is awesome and his hip hop dance is the pure highlight of this performance. All the five are exceptional dancers and hip hop experts. Victoria Livingston-Hall’s costumes are almost Jesus camp that keep the guys all in white silver and grey tones not to disrespect their lord. Cliff Caruthers’ sound design includes hand and stand mics for some of the songs but each of the boys sparkle and send their pitch perfect voices to every seat at the Margaret Lesher Theatre.
The tall sparkling Tyce is the sensitive, somewhat queen, Mark the group's choreographer, who brings the swagger and funny to his role with the other Boyz "I am a Catholic, and it’s not a choice." A sweet emotional William Hoshida hits some impressive high notes as the group's lyricist, Abraham. And as Juan, the delightful Josh Ditto has fun with his character's accent, innocence and "origins" story as we hear their stories and the secrets that each one is hiding from the others. Their harmonies are gorgeous, their stage presence is intoxicating, their dancing is joyful and not self-conscious, and their rapport is genuine. The guys complement each other perfectly and blend their singular skills to form the ensemble boy band collective needed for this production.
Pinto’s show stopping dance is sizzling and really brings this show it's excellent fun and energy. Pinto brings the ALTAR BOYZ out to convert us to an higher lifestyle in the theater: having pure and sinless fun, in our closets or out. There’s dazzling rock-concert lighting by the award winning Kurt Landisman who drops some splendid light effects that bring the show its best moments highlighting the guys inner truths. Kate Boyd’s silver and blue set makes perfect use on concert platforms and of course resembles a church, keeping Prince’s bright pop band on stage that include Eryn Allen, Lane Sanders and Stephen Sanska. Bay Area favorite Anthony Rollins-Mullens fills in as the voice of G.O.D. (Mullens is currently in “Smokey Joe's” at Broadway by The Bay)
Pinto and his creative team have done a terrific job with this spoof of Christian tunes. As many musicals built on parody, this one-act production could easily lapse into a one-trick gimmick that feels 80 minutes too long. Its saving grace is a clever script and moving music, which renders the playful harmless to those who do not believe. It adds humor and poignancy in just the right places and when needed most. I didn’t want to like a musical all based on Christian songs, but these Boyz made me a believer. What sets “Altar Boyz” apart is an endearing sincerity even when its aim is the big laugh and a charismatic group of guys going at full tilt to lift your spirits. ALTAR BOYZ is definitely worth catching during its summer run at the Center Rep Company and the perfect show to close out their 49th impressive season of exceptional professional theatre. Their 50th season opens this fall with another boy band of sorts MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET and includes SHIRLEY VALENTINE. Some seats remain for ALTAR BOYZ, no need to bring a bible, just come ready to giggle and rock.
Center REPertory Company Presents
By Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker,
Directed and Choreographed by Keith Pinto
Music Director Ben Prince
Must Close July 1
Lesher Center for the Arts,
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $37-$72; 925-943-7469
Photo’s by Kevin Berne
Artistic Director Michael Butler visits with the Boys
Josh Ditto, William Hoshida, Sean Okuniewicz, Justin Sabino and Tyce. The superb music director Ben Prince and his on stage band keep this 90 minute upbeat funky score for the Lord a gem.