Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2017’

Altar Boyz

Justin Sabino, Josh Ditto, Sean Okuniewicz, William Hoshida, Tyce. All photos by kevinberne.com

God is in the house.

Capitalizing on the market segment for contemporary Christian music, playwright Kevin Del Aguila and composers and lyricists Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker developed “Altar Boyz,” a musical-comedy spoof of a touring Christian rock boy band. The work ran for over 2,000 off-Broadway performances, so it clearly reaches a significant theatrical market. Center Rep has fashioned a well-produced, high-energy version that the predisposed will find highly entertaining. It is a crowd pleaser. As a caution, those who are looking for sophistication or nuance or who don’t warm to the religious motif may not find this to their taste.

William Hoshida, Justin Sabino, Josh Ditto, Sean Okuniewicz, Tyce.

The opening conceit is that the performance is billed as the group’s last one. The boys sing and dance and tell funny self-referential stories. The other conceit that makes their performances unique is that they have an electronic device called a Soul Sensor that measures how many souls in the theater need saving. Predictably, the first reading yields a number that approximates the number of people in the house. On subsequent readings, triggered by various cast¬†interventions intended to bring souls closer to God, the number gyrates to create some tension as to whether we will all be saved.

The boy band could aptly be named the Gospel Writers. Those familiar with the New Testament will recognize the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – uh, make that Juan. The characterizations of the boys are quite distinct, but to add to religious diversity (really, because he supposedly writes great lyrics), Abraham, a Jew, was enlisted into the group.

Sean Okuniewicz, Josh Ditto, William Hoshida, Justin Sabino, Tyce.

For those who fear that “Altar Boyz” might be insidious, unctuous Christian propaganda brought to our local stage, consider some of the satirical and subversive lyrics in the songs like “Jesus called me on my cell phone” or “When I hold you tight…it makes my Levi’s tight.” In a forlorn, sexually charged love song, Matthew pines for intimacy with his girl, wailing “Girl you make me want to wait…but until then, I’ll master….my own faith.” And the flamboyant Mark warbles of suffering rejection, and just when you expect him to sing “because I am gay” he blurts out “I am Catholic.” Along with the often revealing and funny lyrics, the music score is very listenable in the soft rock/pop vein.

Tyce (foreground), Josh Ditto, Sean Okuniewicz, Justin Sabino

Director Keith Pinto organizes a fitting, clean, and monochromatic look to the staging, mimicking a Cathedral of Light theme. Costumes in white with silver match the stage and conform with the look of religiosity.

The boys, Josh Ditto, William Hoshida, Sean Okuniewicz, Justin Sabino, and Tyce are talented, and their charming personalities come through. In addition to ensemble harmonies, each has opportunities to show his solo singing chops. Pinto also choreographs movement, which includes nods to ancient dances such as the robot, break dancing, and moon dancing.

When a theatrical piece goes for wall-to-wall laughs, it’s hard to find an underlying moral or believe that one was intended. But the expressed sentiment in the play that perhaps captures the underlying message is “There is no star that is as bright as its constellation.” GO WARRIORS!

“Altar Boyz” with book by Kevin Del Aguila and music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker is produced by Center Rep and plays at the Lesher Center, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek through July 1, 2017.

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