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Altar boys and the Catholic Church – overall, not a good combination. But at the Greenwich Theatre last night they were a match made in Heaven (sorry).
The story (what little there is) follows the five Altar Boyz: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham. These five pop pin-ups are on their ‘Raise the Praise’ tour – spreading the word of God with their voices and catchy songs, which are designed to save the souls of all their fans. A cross between the Christian image of the Jonas Brothers and the harmonies of The Wanted, Altar Boyz are kitschy and camp, but oh so fun!
The songs are varied and infectious, ranging from the disco funk of ‘God Put the Rhythm in Me’ to the soulful ‘Girl, You Make Me Wanna Wait’, which is reminiscent of 90s R ‘n’ B – Altar Boyz II Men, anyone?
British audiences may not relate to the God-bothering as much as American ones, but that’s not to say they can’t enjoy the knowing lyrics that satirise the paradox of attractive boy bands singing about the sin of pre-marital sex – all the while gyrating to the screams of female fans.
As mentioned, there isn’t much of a story in Altar Boyz. The show takes the form of a concert performance with some sketches and skits thrown in for good measure. It’s definitely an interesting style that works well and allows the songs to have their full impact without feeling forced.
All the actors are incredibly talented singers, but the stand out performer is Jonny Fines, who plays Mark. His performance gets progressively camper and his attention to detail (the kicked heels, the fabulous exit splayed over a box) had the audience nearly weeing themselves.
The show is not without its flaws: the conflict seems shoehorned into the last twenty minutes and seems only to be there to satisfy the usual dramatic criteria for a musical. Similarly, the unrequited love of one member to another is never explored deeply enough to pay off, instead being reduced to a couple of longing gazes and innuendo. The characters are stereotypes, made to fill the ethnic and personality quotas of most boy bands. If you’re expecting character development on par with West Side Story, then you’ve come to the wrong show.
Nevertheless, Altar Boyz is laugh-out-loud funny and at 90 minutes long it doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be some grandiose performance in the West End.