(This is Jerry's review of the original Arts Club production from 2009)
For decades I’ve been going to the theatre over a hundred nights a year and it never stops being interesting. One thing I find continually fascinating is the reminder at regular intervals that I can be hugely out of step with general opinion and/or the critical consensus. To wit, my experience of Altar Boyz, so popular a hit with Arts Club audiences that it’s being held over an additional four weeks. It’s also gotten consensus thumbs up among Vancouver critics, one praising the show so extravagantly you’d think it included the Second Coming.
The conceit is that we’re at a concert by a Christian boy band—although one of the five is Jewish (another is gay, a third Hispanic, there’s a wigger and one ordinary guy). All the songs have Christian themes (“Church Rulez,” “La Vida Eternal,” “I Believe”) and some of the lyrics are pretty witty: “Jesus called me on my cellphone,” “Girl, you make me wanna wait.” The music is entirely generic with lots of harmony ballads; the best song is a rockin’ exorcism (“Get the hell out!”). The show has no plot and isn’t about anything, although a few lame devices provide some structure and characterization. The most puzzling thing is its attitude towards Christianity itself. Is this meant to be a satire? If so, in what way? My sense is that it’sGodspell-style evangelism pretending to be satirical.
The boyz are Matthew (Jeremy Crittenden), Mark (David Hurwitz), Luke (Jak Barradell), and Juan (Vincent Tong doing a Spanish accent)—and Abraham (Geoff Stevens). Bill Millerd directs them to play everything very broadly and that they do, with lots of what I call high-five acting. They all have decent voices and some of the harmony arrangements are quite sweet, but there are few knockout vocal moments. Tong stands out for both his singing and dancing, though he also mugs a lot. Sara-Jeanne Hosie’s choreography gives Tong and especially Barradell some really impressive break-dancing moves.
The audience at the performance I attended was lukewarm until about 2/3 of the way through its intermissionless 90 minutes, but clearly got the spirit towards the end. I didn’t get it and I didn’t like it. If I were going to the Arts Club again this summer, I’d go see Les Miz again.