"Altar Boyz," a musical lampooning Christian pop music and boy bands that opened Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse, has an awful lot going for it:
Five strong singers, producing lush, tight harmonies and breakout solo moments that occasionally take your breath away.
Five energetic, rhythmic dancers sharply executing some of the season's best choreography by Melanie Walters. I can't emphasize this enough: sweet choreography.
And five gifted character actors, each of whom exudes charisma on demand.
Since the show has only five people in it, this is a good thing. If the show has a downside, it's that the script isn't all that special.
But director Susan Baer Collins and her boyz make the most of the material, pulling laughs from shrewd line delivery, clever bits of physical business and an approach to the characters that turns their naivete into comedic pay dirt.
And it's just about impossible to resist all the high-energy singing and dancing in this 90-minute, intermissionless show. The miracle here is that these guys can sing at all with their feet flying in a nearly nonstop aerobic workout.
"Altar Boyz," a 2005 off-Broadway hit that ran nearly five years, also is the name of the show's Christian boy band, which is completing its "Raise the Praise" national tour with the very performance you attend.
Scenic designer Jim Othuse cleverly has metal trusses doing double duty as lighting towers while mimicking the lines of a church. Music director Jim Boggess' terrific five-piece backup band sits on a raised platform at center stage, while the boyz perform on all sides of it, though primarily downstage.
A song explains how Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juan formed the band, particularly the unlikely inclusion of Abraham (David J. Zenchuk), their Jewish lyricist.
Matthew (Paul T. Hanson) is the leader, Mark (Joseph T. O'Connor II) the sweet one, Luke (Quinton Stewart) the streetwise one, Juan (Roderick Cotton) the ethnic orphan.
The musical numbers range in genre: rap, funk, salsa, ballads and fizzy pop.
Nearly all the songs attempt irreverent humor, taking on issues such as sexual orientation, miracles, exorcism or waiting for sex until marriage.
At a Thursday preview, one of the boyz had some pitch problems, perhaps from vocally straining. But the singing in general was strong.
And each performer has a forte: Zenchuk's pure, melodic tones on the opening of "I Believe," Hanson's straight-man sincerity, Stewart's gymnastic bad-boy schtick, Cotton's screamingly perfect comedic timing. A personal favorite: O'Connor's complete immersion in the character of Mark, who has a pretty big crush on Matthew. O'Connor's vocals on "Epiphany" also are a musical peak.
A running gag is the electronic "Soul Sensor," whose digital display tracks how many troubled souls are in the audience.
It was down to zero before the standing-ovation curtain call.
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