Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Theater review: Altar Boyz in Arlington will save your soul
Instead of going to church this weekend, maybe duck out and go to Theatre Arlington.
ARLINGTON There are a lot of shows that have made it in New York without ever setting foot on a Broadway stage: The Fantasticks, The Mystery of Irma Vep and Three Penny Opera, to name a few. One of the more popular shows has made a long trek to Theatre Arlington. Altar Boyz “Raise the Praise” Tour is here.
Altar Boyz originally opened March 1, 2005 to rave reviews. Over the entire Off-Broadway run, the show earned several nominations for Drama Desk Awards, Lucille Lortel Awards and Drama League Awards while winning the coveted Outer Critics Circle Award for the Best Off-Broadway Musical that year. It continued to run until January 10, 2010 for a grand total of 2,032 performances, making it the ninth longest running show Off-Broadway.
The story follows the Altar Boyz, a five member Christian boy band from Ohio, performing the final concert of their “Raise the Praise” national tour. The Christian band members, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan join Abraham, the Jewish member, in a quest to save the souls of the entire audience during their concert. The band uses the Soul Sensor DX 12, which scans and displays how many burdened souls are in the audience, in hopes of getting the number to zero.
Kevin Del Aguila has written a brilliant show satirizing the boy band phenomenon and the Christian contemporary culture that’s swept across America over the past decade or so. To top it off, he’s written it to run in real time. This makes it more difficult to perform on stage live. Andy Baldwin decided to take on this challenge and trust me, he does not disappoint.
Upon entering the theatre, I was immediately engulfed in a haze which gave me the feeling of going to a real concert. But what really helped the atmosphere was Tony Curtis’s set design. The musicians were placed in between two ramps that went from mid stage back to a raised walkway spanning the whole stage. A silver Mylar curtain became the backdrop of the whole set with three towers of flood lights right in front of it. The downstage area was the boy band’s performance area. It was painted with a star symbol dead center, but the diamond plating that Scenic Artist Roxanne Mather had all over the stage really sold the idea that this was a true touring show. The rest of the set consisted of four upright truss pieces and several more hanging in the air, all loaded with lighting equipment.
Lighting Designers Max Marquez and Bryan Stevenson revealed what their design can and cannot do. The show started with the boys up on the upstage walkway, but you couldn’t see them. The minute they moved downstage into the front light is when it got spectacular. With six moving lights and a huge amount of LED fixtures, both designers gave you a great flash and trash rock light show. There were other times when characters on the upstage walkway could not be seen, but for the most part the lighting was a fun part of the show.
Sound Designer Jordana Abrenica pulled off another quality job at Theatre Arlington with this show. There were a lot of voiceover and sound effects cues that made the touring show environment believable. Every actor in the show wore a microphone, which can be tricky as far as getting an even tone between the band and the singers. During the performance the sound was even and there was never a problem hearing anyone the entire evening. Unfortunately though, there was a lot of crackling on someone’s mic. While it didn’t impede my ability to hear the show, it did become annoying at times. With no intermission though, it became almost impossible for the techs to fix it.
I was really amazed by the costumes. Meredith Hinton did an incredible job individualizing the characters’ persona through the show while still making them a group. After the first song, the characters dress in clothing that represents them. The colors were eye-popping and fun to look at. The best example of continuity and contrast between the characters came later in the show when the band all dressed in white. While they all looked similar, their costumes were all slightly different. Juan was wearing a shiny silk shirt while Luke was in all white street thug attire, making them individuals in a group setting.
It is simply de rigueur that boy bands have to dance! Choreographer Laura West Strawser put this cast to the test, as there was a lot of movement through the whole show. Most boy bands of the past had heavy unison dancing involved. Here was no different and West Strawser fabulously kept the uniformity to their dancing. All the actors deserved a pat on the back for carrying through on some really complex choreography.
Pulling it all together was Director Andy Baldwin. What a fantastic job getting all the different elements moving together flawlessly. Baldwin’s casting choices were spot on. Each actor was perfect for their role. When a show runs without an intermission, exits and entrances must be quick and flawless to keep the flow of the show moving. Through the entire production, Baldwin did a great job making this happen.
Since this is a musical about a concert tour, the music is, obviously, extremely important. Musical Director Michael Plantz found a talented group of musicians to help drive the music along. His assistance in the casting showed as well. Each performer really had no problem vocally through the show. Plantz’s musical direction and conducting was simply flawless.
The musical wouldn’t be the musical it is without the five actors driving it. All of them developed their characters to the fullest. Being about a concert tour where the boys work with the audience, improvisation plays a big part. All of them were easily able to fly right through the improv scenes, truly making them look like they were written in the script. The harmonizing between the five was incredibly good, and I could swear these gentlemen had been singing with each other for years.
Matthew Purvis had the honor of playing Matthew. Mr. Purvis was the perfect choice for this role! With his young but studious looks, he deftly pulled off the pretty boy role. Throughout the concert, the character Matthew has continuous banter with Mark, the gay Catholic, played by Phillip Cole White. As the show progressed, White’s character persona became more and more flamboyant to the extent that I couldn’t stop watching him.
No boy band would be the same without the Markey Mark character. Luke, played by Dalton Hutto, brought this character to life. During the first song, Hutto looked like a normal kid in a band. But minutes later, the flat-brimmed hat came out and Luke transformed right in front of your eyes into the street thug you knew was underneath.
Comedy needs a deadpan character to play off of, and Tim McCarthy brought it with Abraham. While being a Jew in a Christian band is awkward enough, McCarthy took it to a new comedy level. I must admit he did a great job making it through the Confession Sessions of the show.
To finish out the group is Juan played by Angel Velasco, and he just couldn’t have been any better. Velasco portrayed Juan, the limited English-speaking Hispanic, to the hilt. The way he swaggered onto the stage you thought he was Rico Sauvé. But where his talent shown was how good he was during his solo number. This was truly a show-stopping moment I wasn’t expecting. His belt at the end of the number was flawless, causing the entire audience to react. His vocals were that impressive.
Theatre Arlington did a brilliant job with this extremely funny production. The talent that was brought together played extremely well off each other. The entire cast looked comfortable onstage. I’m usually not a fan of audience participation shows, but Altar Boyz was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in the theatre in a long time. So, instead of going to church this weekend, maybe duck out and go to Theatre Arlington and truly get your soul saved!
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