Straight Up for Jesus?
Boy band + God = disco lights
by Suzi Steffen
Not gonna lie to you, Eugene: Altar Boyz has some funny moments. If you grew up Catholic and/or ever wondered just exactly how many of the boys in a boy band might not be as heterosexually interested as Tiger Beat claimed, you’ll be mightily amused by the new show at Actors Cabaret of Eugene. That is, you’ll be amused from time to time.
|All of the Altar Boyz|
The show has the barest sketch of an outline of a plot, with the “conflict” cropping up and finding resolution during the last 10 minutes of the no-intermission hour and a half. That’s shorter than the pre-intermission portion of the UO’s Around the World in 80 Days, but the UO doesn’t serve dinner, drinks and dessert before the play. Hint: Hit the bathroom before the show.
Six guys make up the cast; their characters are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, Peter and Abraham. Guess which one is supposed to be Jewish. Also, guess which one speaks with an exaggerated “Mexican” accent (that’s Juan, played by Alex Holmes). The Jewish one (Jermaine Golden, familiar from many a UO production) writes the lyrics for pretty boy group leader Matthew (Chris McVein, who’s a super bartender as well as the possessor of a nice high tenor) and the gang. Luke (Antonio Gutierrez) plays a homeboy who maybe has a bit of an issue with communion wine. Then there’s Peter (Colin Gray), the super-preppy-but-hot intellectual, and Mark (Mark Van Beever), who protected Matthew when Matthew was little and is best buds with him now.
OK, so those are the guys. Both cast and script give the strong impression that at least three of the boy-band boys are gay, and there are at least two quite amusing jokes (one of which is outrageous) that hint at some naïvete around that fact while winking at the audience, who clearly know that this probably wouldn’t be such a laughing matter for real-life boy band members (not to mention real-life Catholics).
The jokes are part of a thin book that barely shows among the multitude of pop numbers, dance routines and schlocky ballads (sometimes all at the same time) blaring out over the loudspeakers and from the stage. The actors sometimes deal with iffy headsets, not to mention understandable exhaustion. This causes some problems because if a singer can’t hear his compatriots or the music, and if he can’t breathe, it’s hard to stay in tune (an audible problem by the end of the show).
The bigger problem stems from a disconnect: Should the audience laugh at the so-earnest-it’s-funny portrayal of the God-driven guys? Or should the audience find the entire show a fairly serious take on Christianity and faith? The script and songs don’t know which way to focus, and even though director Joe Zingo and the actors do their best, they can’t redirect it toward a clear end. Choreographer Lindsey Cooper and vocal director Van Beever clearly worked their hearts out over this one, and the actors do their best, often under disco lights, in response. If they don’t get into theatrical heaven, it’s not for lack of trying.
Altar Boyz runs through Feb. 28 at ACE & March 6-8 at the Hult Center. Tix at www.actorscabaret.org or 683-4368 for ACE; hultcenter.org or 682-5000 for the Hult.