And that they did!
They are the Altar Boyz–another international hit boy band that recently “came” to town to entertain to the Pittsburgh audience. But this time, besides pop tunes, electrifying dance moves, and dreamy looks, they have one extra thing to offer—they want to save your soul! Originally an Off-Broadway musical conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport, and the winner of 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award, Altar Boyz has been touring both nationally and internationally after a successful five-year run in New York. In this brand new CLO Cabaret production, with original Off-Broadway choreography re-produced by Carlos Encinias, and the original composer Gary Adler on deck as the music director, the energy in the theater only gets higher and louder!
Altar Boyz tells the story of five committed catholic boys—Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham, who are on a mission to spread the words and spirit of the Lord throughout the nation’s bingo halls and pancake breakfasts, and Pittsburgh is the last stop on this “Raise the Praise” tour. Without classic musicals’ coherent dramatic structure, this 90-minute intermission-less show is performed in a concert-like style that occasionally has some sub-plots going on between the only five characters. What’s driving the show forward is a digital TV screen, called the “Soul Sensor”, mounted on the side of the stage in front of the entire audience that displays the number of lost souls in the theater. And the goal of the band for the evening is to reduce that number from somewhere around a hundred and fifty, to zero. Over the course of this journey we also learned the history of the group through each band member’s perspective, similar to the narrative structure inJersey Boys, and even some deep dark secrets of the band members, such as an unspoken “love” attraction, and four unexpected “too little too late” solo deals in the end. Throughout the show the actors will interact with the audience directly, sometimes even invite you on stage and sing to you if you are lucky. But with the perfect comedy set up and Book of Mormon kind of fun, only good times and laughs are guaranteed.
Now let’s talk about the boys. Pittsburgh CLO alumnus Mason Alexander Park, who recently appeared on Benedum’s stage as the first male countertenor as Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins, plays the flamboyant over-the-top Mark. His heavenly range and dazzling fashion style almost stole the show during his breathtaking delivery of the final solo number Epiphany, in which Mark “comes out” to everyone that he is indeed not shamed to be, eh, a catholic.
Another CLO favorite Michael Greer plays the jockey but not quite intelligent Luke, whose action-packed break dances and occasionally silly but genuine remarks are the highlights of his character. His whole “exhaustion” monologue was generally funny and did win a lot of laughter.
The rest of the cast is relatively new to the scene, but they all proved with their beautiful harmony and charmingly synchronized dancing that they too can win Pittsburgh audience’s heart in no time. Point Park University graduate Carter Ellis played Abraham, the only Jewish boy in the band, whose nerdy kindness somehow ties the whole story together in the end. Javier Manente, a senior musical theater student at Point Park, plays the sexy Spanish guy Juan, whose exhilarating dance moves and positivity can fire up the theater in a heartbeat. And finally Michael James, another Point Park alumnus, plays the group leader Matthew. Although this character doesn’t have as much of a memorable personality as everyone else, Mr. James’s unstoppable energy and incredible voice will make you fall in love with him just like in the song he sings to that lucky audience, “there’s something about you that makes me want to wait.”
With book written by Kevin Del Aguila, because of its concert-like and interactive nature, most of the dialogues in the show sound like talk show scripts or TYA (Theater for Young Audience) at the beginning, meaning that the characters will ask the audience a question, and then answer with their own explanations to proceed the plot. However, with Gary Alder and Michael Patrick Walker’s catchy melodies and brilliant lyrics, you will soon forget about all of that and just start having a great time. All the songs are filled with very smart jokes and satirical parodies, sometimes even surprising and hilarious plot twists within the lyrics.
Although the atmosphere of CLO Cabaret is always laid-back and more relaxing than the usual theater seats environment, the rhythm and tempo of Altar Boyz is nothing like the shows you would normally see at a bingo event. Originally designed by Christopher Gattelli and nominated for a Drama Desk Award, the choreography of this musical will put you on the edge of your seat. And with director Carlos Encinias’s new touch, the dance beats fit perfectly in that intimate stage setting while still being enthusiastic. Keith A. Truax’s thrilling lighting design will make you truly believe that you are in a pop boy band live concert, and Cathleen Crocker-Perry’s versatile costumes definitely bring out the highlight of each character’s unique personality while maintaining the sense of storytelling with all the singing and dancing.
Altar Boyz is an exciting musical comedy that will make you fall in love with CLO Cabaret all over again while laughing your head off. It might not be life changing or soul saving, but it’s very entertaining.
Presented by Pittsburgh CLO
Directed by Carlos Encinias, Music Directed by Gary Adler
Book by Kevin Del Aguila
Music and Lyrics by Gary Alder & Michael Patrick Walker
Original Off-Broadway Choreography Re-produced by Carlos Encinias
Designed by Cathleen Crocker-Perry (costumes), Keith A. Truax (lighting), Kevan Loney (animations), Tim Brady (stage manager)
Starring Carter Ellis (Abraham), Michael Greer (Luke), Michael James (Matthew), Javier Manente (Juan), Mason Alexander Park (Mark)
Special Thanks to Pittsburgh CLO for the complimentary press tickets. The show runs until December 20th. For more information about their season productions and ticketing, check out their website
Performance Date: Friday, October 2, 2015