Everything in Altar Boyz, the hit off-Broadway musical now running at the San Jose Stage, is shiny. The giant sign that hangs over the stage, displaying "ALTAR BOYZ" in big dazzling letters, sparkles with the light of thousands of LEDs. The rhinestones in the faux-bling cross that hangs from bad boy Luke's (Darrin Glesser) neck glint in the spotlight during his rap solo. Even the performers faces are shiny, glistening with sweat from singing and dancing for an hour and a half with almost no breaks. Let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if they made Sean Patrick O'Connor, who plays Mark, mop the stage after every show.
All that pizzazz does little, however, to hide the fact that there's not much going on underneath. The musical is framed as the last performance of the Altar Boyz, a Christian boy band. Their world tour is coming to an end and, unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Catholic crooners Matthew (CJ Blankenship), Mark, Luke, and Latino Juan (Manuel Romero) have all signed separate, solo deals. In fact, the only group member who hasn't signed a deal is Abraham, a Jew who wandered into a church one day and ended up being commanded by God to sing songs like "The Calling" (aka "Jesus Called me on my Cell Phone") and "Church Rulez."
And that's about it for the plot. Other than a few skits and a short interlude about Juan's parents, the rest of the musical is essentially just that -- music. Thematically, each character does have some subtext: Abraham is Jewish and wondering what he's doing in a Christian boy band, Luke spent time in rehab for "exhaustion," Juan is an orphan, and Mark is totally gay for Matthew. However, the musical does not spend much time exploring any of those character traits. At one point, it seems as if Mark may admit to his sexual orientation, but he -- and the show -- ultimately shies away from the subject. Clearly, the creators of Altar Boyz made a conscious decision to keep this show peppy and superficial, and that's fine for an audience that just wants to be entertained. But anyone hoping for an in-depth examination of the intersection of lifestyle and religion will be disappointed by the musical.
That being said, the cast and crew of Altar Boyz do a fantastic job of keeping the audience clapping and laughing. The guys fly over the small stage, doing box steps and ball-changes like they were the New Kids on the Block, and interact both with the four-piece band behind them and the audience seated mere feet in front of them. The show's script calls for a double entendre, pop culture joke, or horrendous pun about every ten words, and though many of them fall flat, a few land solidly. Lights flash constantly, projector screens display some of the cheesiest animations you could imagine, and a "Soul Sensor" keeps track of the number of souls the Boyz have saved over the course of their show.
All in all, Altar Boyz is an incredibly energetic performance, featuring five young actors who leave it all on the stage, and who come out looking like stars for it. The play offers an hour and a half of pure fun unadulterated by anything that could provoke those pesky "thoughts."
Altar Boyz runs through September 21, 2008 at the San Jose Stage, 490 First St., San Jose. For tickets and information visit sanjose-stage.com.