What's most impressive about 3-D Theatricals' production of The Altar Boyz, the hit Off-Broadway musical send-up of a Christian boy band?
It's a toss-up: Either that a new theater company in Orange County can afford such an expensive-looking venue, the OC Pavilion, for its shows; or how unbelievably entertaining a production it has wheeled out in only its third offering.
The company, financed by two brothers and a sister with the last name of Dawson (hence the 3-D moniker), is a full-fledged professional theater that uses union actors and musicians, along with non-union personnel. Its production values are top-notch and its space, the 500-seat OC Pavilion Theater, a concert room complete with VIP booths and a balcony, is nothing short of jaw-droppping.
This production is the Orange County premiere of a musical that won the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical in 2005, and played for 2032 performances before closing earlier this year.
The Kevin Del Aguila-Gary Walter-Michael Patrick Walker musical isn't a great one in terms of intellectual freight: It's basically a performance by a boy band a la 'NSync or the Backstreet Boys that happens to be devoutly Christian (along with one Jew). But its skillful send-up of both boy bands and ardent devotion manages to poke fun at both while also cleverly championing them.
The plot, so to speak, centers on the final production of the American tour of the Altar Boyz, who are as much enamored of the Lord as they are of corporate sponsor, Sony Music. The Boyz perform songs that proclaim their devotion, as well as show the group's, uh, genesis.
The only real conflict is supplied by the on-stage presence of an electronic "soul meter" that basically scans the audience after each song and tabulates how many souls are in need of cleansing. The soul meter starts at around 150 and progressively whittles down after each song. But, at some point, the soul meter stops, and the Boyz need to figure out what souls are in most need of redemption. Turns out, it's their own.
It's an intentionally goofy, silly and eminently fun show, and the cast assembled by director and choreographer Troy Magino (who excels in both departments) is as talented as any ensemble you'll see on a local stage anytime, anywhere. They hurl themselves into their roles with frenetic abandon, and each exhibits a powerhouse combination of dancing, singing and talent.
Our Boyz are the leader, Matthew (Mark Shunock), who supplies the clean-cut heartthrob quotient; Mark (Jacob Haren) the flamboyant Boyz; Luke (Shawn Peruca), the backward-baseball-cap-sporting street tough Boyz; Juan (Nathan Norrington) the non-Caucasian Boyz; and Abraham (Louis Pardo), the writing brain behind the Boyz, and it's only non-Christian.
Each of the five gets ample time to strut his respective stuff and each succeeds in transforming his very cliche pop-culture archetypes into real characters over the 90-minute span.
And that's exactly what the show itself does: Rise above its shamelessly manufactured gimmick and turning into a show that could entertain the most unapologetic atheist an the most ardent believer.
The material does flirt with breaking a few commandments or Old Testament admonitions here and there (taking the Lord's name in vain, apparent homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse) but does so in such clever fashion that it never feels like religion is a target as much as its own realm of entertainment.
And, thanks to the cast's relentless energy and stupendous talent, and a production that fires on all cylinders, it's a kind of entertainment that has plenty of funk, soul and rock & roll.
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It's a daunting enterprise to open any new kind of business in a turbulent economic time, particularly one that aims at such a high degree of professionalism. Here's hoping 3-D Theatricals survives and prospers, for no other reason that its 2010 schedule, which has its fill of theater chestnuts (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Hello Dolly! are its next two shows) concludes with John Patrick Shanley's wonderfully rendered drama, Doubt.
This is an obviously a company with energy, a chunk of capital and huge ambition. And deciding to stage a taut, intense drama alongside such venerable audience-pleasers displays the same kind of artistic balance that has helped the Chance Theater in Anaheim establish itself as a major force on the Southern California theatrical landscape.
The Altar Boys, Orange County Pavilion, 801 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-0880. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through April 25. $15-$40.