It’s all about soul … saving

Altar Boyz

The Altar Boyz: least likely to be mistaken for Kool & the Gang.

The Altar Boyz: least likely to be mistaken for Kool & the Gang.

24th Street Theatre

2791 24th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818

(916) 452-3005

Rated 4.0

It’s a confection, that’s true. But Altar Boyz is a confection that’s more layered and surprising than, say, cotton candy, which is just sickeningly sweet and fluffy all the way through.

No, this musical fluff piece has a few nuts and nougats hidden throughout—and the biggest one is how much nicer the world would be if the Church were really as simple, tolerant and wrought through with the love of God as these particular altar boys—plus one Jewish kid—seem to be.

The premise here is simple. The Altar Boyz, a harmony-loving, abstinence-professing Christian pop band made up of, uh, altar boys, are playing the last show on their Raise the Praise tour. They’re sharing the goodness and light of Jesus, well blended with the goodness and light of pop music, in hopes of saving souls. To further that cause, they have the Sony Soul Sensor DX-12, a machine that registers how many souls in the house are weighed down with sin.

Oh yeah. It’s that kitschy.

Then you add a little camp: There’s altar boy Mark (the incredible Joseph Boyette). Let’s just say that he takes the Catholic Church’s stand on homosexuality pretty literally when they teach that it’s OK to be gay, as long as you don’t actually do anything that’s gay. Cue repression and heartbreak, as well as a flair for fashion.

The rest of the Altar Boyz are Matthew, an all-American boy (Scott Woodard); Luke, who’s just out of treatment for “exhaustion” (Benjamin Herrera); and Juan, the Latino foundling searching for his parents (Peter Giovanni). Then there’s Abraham, the nice Jewish boy (Tyler Robinson), who covers his hair gel with a yarmulke.

All of these young men have fine voices and they make the most of them. It’s also an excellent opportunity to show off their hoofing skills, and choreographer Darryl Strohl gets some big props (shared with the actors, who do the heavy lifting) for the energetic dance moves. This is a great production for showcasing the singing and dancing skills of these fine young performers.

The acting? Eh, not so much.

The show is written so that they’re all just basically good Catholic boys, with the muddled understanding of doctrine you’d expect from kids who use that much product on their hair. The most dramatic moment in the play isn’t the climax, it’s a basic religious conflict about what we are to make of the power of prayer when our hopes are crushed instead of fulfilled.

Now that’s drama.

Unfortunately, the Altar Boyz aren’t equipped to deal with it. And while a savvy audience member would certainly notice the irony of commercializing the Gospel, that’s also not on the agenda here. If these guys are on the side of the angels, those are some pretty simple-minded angels.

Instead, it’s all about the harmony—which might be why the high point is “Everybody Fits,” a paean to tolerance and acceptance that prominently features the group’s non-Christian.

It’s not necessarily Catholic doctrine, but it’s really nice.