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Theatre Review (LA): Altar Boyz at the Celebration Theatre

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Altar Boyz at the Celebration Theatre is one hell of a show. Although I have seen this show in the past and not really enjoyed it, finding it too serious and too religious, the cast at the Celebration Theatre have matters well in hand, delivering a bright, biting, satirical musical about boy groups and “Christian” music.

One reason is that the show is in an intimate space, as opposed to the Wadsworth or the Carpenter Center. Also I think the cast at the celebration is better than any other I have seen, and the audience was hipper and more welcoming; a roomful of sinners indeed. Considering that saving the audience’s soul is the plot, tied together by some terrific songs, I don’t think you could have a better venue.

First praise must go to director Patrick Pearson and choreographer Ameenah Kaplan for creating a totally fresh, original version of the show for this production. The pace is fast and the dancing energetic, but still there is tremendous heart in this show, thanks to the creativity of writers Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, with a book by Kevin Del Aquila. The show lovingly satirizes the boy bands without ever getting mean. Because the “Altar Boys” are very sexy, there’s lots of sexual innuendo, but there is also innocence.

Ultimately it is the cast that makes or breaks this show. Director Pearson has gathered a wonderfully talented group of young men with energy and sex appeal. The boys are named, appropriately, after Bible characters (sort of). Mathew is the wavy haired blond boy-next-store, here played by Jesse Bradley. Mark is just your everyday gay guy who just happens to be hiding the fact that he is Catholic. Clifford Banagale is effeminate without being offensive and has an absolutely gorgeous tenor voice. Jake Wesley Stewart plays the thuggish Luke who has a heart of gold though he might be absent a few brain cells; he is the most energetic of the group and really delivers.

Robert Acinapura (an Italian) plays Juan, the woman-loving Latino who must face tragedy in the course of the evening. Last but not least is Kelly Rice as Abraham the token Jew. He is sort of the George Harrison of the group – shy and retiring, but by the end of the evening I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He sings beautifully (he has some boy band experience in his past) and is the best dancer (he is also the dance captain).

The “boys” are backed up with a very talented combo headed by musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten. The sound is modulated so you can hear every word the cast sings, which is rare in a rock production. Thanks for that. Altar Boyz will play at the Celebration Theatre until Aug 23rd, but look for many extensions. Hallelujah.

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