ARLINGTON Altar Boyz, a hilarious sendup of Christian pop music acts that opened Friday at Theatre Arlington, will make you want to seek divine guidance about how to stop laughing.
The show’s title group is a devout boy band — a bit like ’N Sync meets the Newsboys. The show is presented as the last performance on their Raise the Praise tour. The group’s members are Matthew (Matthew Purvis), Mark (Phillip Cole White), Luke (Dalton Hutto), Juan (Angel Velasco) and the surprisingly Old Testament-esque Abraham (Tim McCarthy), the only member of the group who sports a yarmulke.
Together, they harmonize on such spirit-moving numbers as The Calling, in which the son of God dials up the lads on his cellphone (caller ID identifies him as “Jesus H. Christ”), and Something About You, in which the singer croons to his girlfriend that, on the matter of sex, there is something about her that makes him want to wait.
All of this inspired lunacy is righteously funny and divinely well done. The book, by Kevin Del Aguila, and the songs, by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, are brilliantly composed. The musical numbers, especially, nail their subject with incredible insight and cheekiness.
But the side-splitting cleverness of the lyrics would mean little if they weren’t delivered as well as they are here. The Boyz in this production, directed by master-of-comedy Andy Baldwin, are so well cast that they could probably hit the road as a Christian boy band if they were willing to change their lyrics (a lot). All five have fine voices, and their harmonies are more tightly wound than a preacher’s watch. And they also sharply execute Laura West Strawser’s fabulous choreography.
Better still, all thoroughly grasp the concept of singing in character. The consistency with which they stick to those characters is a credit to Baldwin and his cast.
It is hard to single out any one player from the quintet, but Purvis probably deserves a special nod for his nuanced portrayal. He captures the excruciating sincerity and wide-eyed, clueless innocence of the youthful anointed with unerring accuracy.
Another performance that is particularly easy to enjoy in the this breezy, 90-minute show is the vocal work by Hutto, whose street-wise Luke adds an element of menace seldom seen in singing evangelism. You won’t need any prompting to relish the over-the-top antics of White as Mark, who seems to be a little more sensitive than the rest of the Boyz.
Providing outstanding support for the actors is a four-piece, onstage band led by music director Michael Plantz. The balance between the music and vocals is exactly right, as are all of the audio elements of the show, thanks to sound designer Jordana Abrenica.
Another notable performance in this production comes from the recently departed, and widely loved, disc jockey Kidd Kraddick. It is somewhat eerie to hear him provide the voice of God in a couple of bits recorded for this show. But, thanks to a note in the program, it is also a touching way to honor his memory.
The only place the show falls short is in its video element. A television monitor hung above the stage provides a great deal of significant (and funny) information. But there is only one standard-sized screen. It is great to see a show incorporate video, because it isn’t done nearly enough, but it needs to be presented better than it is here.