By Russell Florence, Jr.
Encore Theater Company supplies a thoroughly enjoyable production of Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker’s critically acclaimed, long-running 2005 off-Broadway musical “Altar Boyz,” a breezy, funny, high spirited and occasionally touching pop parody conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport.
Staged at Sinclair Community College’s Blair Hall Theatre, “Altar Boyz” is presented as a final concert engagement for a contemporary Christian quintet (four Catholics, one Jewish) committed to “praising the Lord with funk and rhyme” while delivering their “Raise the Praise Tour” across the country. In the hands of a less sensitive creative team, this good-natured, witty tale might have uncomfortably resorted to the relentless backhanded spoofing associated with “The Book of Mormon,” but the material doesn’t offend. In fact, it deliciously satirizes religion and the boy band concept with equal punch. Some of the best jokes actually derive from the stereotypical nature of the band members, who are sharply written and easily relatable in their varying circumstances.
Drew Bowen, a standout Roger in Encore’s production of “Rent” last season, is incredibly credibly charming as lead singer Matthew, specifically wooing the ladies with the lovely ballad “Something About You.” As the fiery Juan, Zack Steele offers impressive diction and a confident aura of brooding machismo. Zach King effectively portrays Abraham with understated humor. Andrew J. Koslow, a Muse Machine alumnus returning home to offer one of his best performances, is simply excellent as the effeminate Mark, who pines for Matthew and was once confronted by “Episcopalian thugs.” As the rather dense Luke, Korey Harlow doesn’t possess a vocal range on par with his fellow actors, but his terrific dancing and bad boy persona are great assets.
Director-choreographer Lauren Morgan’s contributions are energetic and fluid, particularly her staging of “Rhythm in Me” and “The Miracle Song.” Music director Mark Barnhill leads a balanced on-stage band. Assistant director-choreographer Rodney Veal offers spooky, surreal projection design.
If you’re in the mood for lighthearted fun, “Altar Boyz” fits the bill.
Altar Boyz, which opened Thursday, June 16, concludes tonight at 8 p.m. in Blair Hall Theatre, Building 2, at Sinclair Community College, 444 W. Third St. The musical, featuring Encore co-founder/artistic director David Brush as the voice of God, is presented in 70 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call (937) 512-2808, visit www.encoretheatercompany.com or e-mail [email protected]