Volume 74, Number 52 | May 04 - 10 , 2005

ALTAR BOYZ
At Dodger Stages
340 West 50th Street
(212) 239-6200

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Pictured (L to R): Andy Karl, Ryan Duncan, Scott Porter, Tyler Maynard, David Josefsberg in “Altar Boyz” now playing at Dodger Stages

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan

Camping for Christ

By JERRY TALLMER

If sheer energy can do it, then “Altar Boyz” has to be in for a good long healthy run down in the catacombs of Dodger Stages on West 50th Street.

And oh how healthy! I mean, virginity is healthy, isn’t it?

The boys of “Altar Boyz” is/are a five-man (white) hiphop group along the lines of ’N Sync or the Back Street Boys, but these boyz – that is to say, the characters they play – are wholly, cheerfully, and fiercely dedicated to Christ, Christianity, and (pre-marital) Chastity.

Their names – their stage names, that is – are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan. Matthew is the leader of the unit. Mark is the sensitive one who was brutalized as a sissy by the toughies when he was growing up. Luke is the big lunk whose feet get in the way of his head. Juan is a Latino with eyes (but nothing else, mind you! … well-l-l-l, maybe …) for the girls.

And then there’s Abraham. He’s a Jew. Are Jews allowed in the church, one of the other guys asks. “I think so,” Abraham replies. “I just saw one on the cross above the altar.”

Suggested subtitle: Altar Boyz: They Camp Here.

But it’s loud and it’s fast and gets all the little teenyboppers screaming and, God help us, it’s at times fairly charming and even, yes, fun. Though you might hate yourself in the morning.

The performers are Scott Porter (Matthew), Tyler Maynard (Mark), Andy Karl (Luke), Ryan Duncan (Juan), and David Josefsberg (Abraham). Understudies are Kevin Dern and Daniel Torres. The night I went, Daniel Torres filled in most appealingly as Mark. Though this is not a gay show as such, every innuendo, and in partidular every gesture of Mark’s, got the teenies screaming appreciatively.

Ken Davenport, the 33-year-old former actor, former stage manager, former company manager who with actor/singer Marc Kessler thought the whole thing up, deflects the gay question with:

“We love all the underdogs of this world. Anyone from Rocky on up, or down. It’s the same thing with these kids [Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan]. They’re trying to become big rock stars, and the audience desperately wants them to succeed.

“Where I think comedy comes into it, this is a band in a utopian society, and we all [the producing team] wish it could be a MTV. But of course MTV would never put on a band like this, whose credo is: Wait until you’re married to have sex.”

The book is by Kevin Del Aguila, who first won Davenport’s attention with the Fringe Festival play “6 Story Building.” The music is by Gary Adler. The direction is by Christopher Gattelli, the athletic choreography by Stafford Arima, and the lyrics, which range from the utterly (purposefully?) banal to the quite clever, are by Michael Patrick Walker. Here’s a bit that won a smile from a congenital Luddite:

JESUS CALLED ME ON MY CELL PHONE.
NO ROAMING CHARGES WERE INCURRED.
HE TOLD ME THAT I SHOULD
GO OUT IN THE WORLD
AND SPREAD HIS GLORIOUS WORD …

JESUS CALLED ME ON MY CELL PHONE,
THE CLEAREST VOICE I EVER HEARD.
HE BEEPED ME,
HE FAXED ME,
HE E-MAILED MY SOUL
AND SAID
’TIL THE DAY I’M DEAD
THAT I MUST SPREAD
HIS GLORIOUS WORD.

A 20-minute excerpt of the show was done at the Acorn, on Theater Row, in 2002, “to see if it had legs.” And “got a terrific reception,” according to Davenport. A full production ran for eight performances this past fall at the 47th Street Theater, just off Eighth Avenue, “and sold out so fast, we decided to put the pedal to the medal, go for Off-Broadway.”

One of the gag lines, when the plot and the guilts thicken, is Matthew’s: “There’s a reason Sony Records agreed to fly us out here.” With a laugh, Davenport says: “We wouldn’t mind backing from Sony.”

Now about that “z,” White boyz playing black?

“I just think it’s a big wink,” says Ken Davenport. “It’s hip, it’s young, it’s urban.” And it’s there.

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