David Dodd 2:33 a.m., May 19
Matthew, front man for the five-person, heart-throb band Altar Boyz, falls in love with a woman coaxed from the audience. He sits her on a stool and confesses he's so deeply smitten, "something about you makes me want to wait" - until they're married.
When the band first came together, Matthew (Hanz Enyeart), Mark (Hunter Schwarz), Luke (Shaun Tuazon), and Juan (Patrick Mayuyu) wanted to be like the Backstreet Boys, Menudo, and 98 Degrees, but with a difference: they'll be a Christian boy band, sing "sweet pop music," "praise the Lord with funk and rhyme," and tout heaven as a place where you can "wear some bling with the King."
When Abraham (Nicholas Sloan) wants to join the quartet, someone asks, "are Jewish people allowed in church?"
"I think so," Abraham replies, "I just saw one on a cross above the altar."
Altar Boyz, music and lyrics by Gary Alder and Michael Patrick, pays tribute to the boy bands of the 90s. The "fab five" is performing the final show of their hugely successful, "Raise the Praise" national tour (they're at "Virginary," Juan says, not Diversionary Theatre). A mini-crisis lurks behind the the glow of their stardom.
Always sprited, and often funny, the musical walks, and sometimes crosses, a fine line between sincere homage and flat-out parody. On the one hand, it's the pop-rock equivalent of an evangelist revival (including the DX12, a machine that gauges the number of souls being cleansed). On the other, it spoofs the apple-cheeked, relentlessly cute, virginal facade of the original groups.
To make many jokes work, Kevin Del Aguila's book plays fast and loose with consistency. The quintet is, or is not, depending on the situation, as innocent as they seem. The result: at times it's confusing when to take something seriously and when not. Best to leave logic at the door.
And enter a cabaret: technical director Michael Von Hoffman converted Diversionary's intimate space into a foggy, strobe-blitzed club. There's even a bar for cocktails, should audience members so choose. A back-up band, behind a white, stage-wide platform, does useful work, though at times drowns out solo performers.
Directed by Noel Longton, the cast effectively portrays the boy bands' basic attitude: they bask in the glow of unconditional love, as if to say, "sure you adore us, and rightly so!"
The performers are all capable, but could be more spontaneous (they sometimes look rehearsed) and more precise. Choreographer Michael Mizerany's given them dazzling moves from hip-hop and beyond (at one point Mark moonwalks on water). It's an Olympic-class aerobic workout that needs tighter synchronization.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights, playing through August 19.