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THEATER REVIEW: Bravo to “Altar Boyz” at Diversionary Theatre

Saving souls, lifting spirits and satirizing that once-ubiquitous phenom of boy bands are the aims of “Altar Boyz,” playing through Aug. 19 as part of Diversionary Theatre’s Cabaret Series.

Noah Longton produces and directs a talented quintet of singer/dancers as members of a Christian boy band who jump, gyrate, swivel their hips and – oh, yes – sing praises in an attempt to cleanse dirty audience souls. The number of offending souls is measured on their “Sony DS-12 soul sensor.”

Each character represents a boy band type, but all are played with such energy and affection that they don’t come across as stick figures.

Four of them are named for the gospels: Matthew (Hanz Enyeart), the straight-ahead group leader; Mark (Hunter Schwarz), adorably trying to control his crush on Matthew; Luke (Shaun Tuazon), the bad boy who has spent time at a facility recovering from “exhaustion;” Juan (Patrick Mayuyu), the token Latino with heavy accent and sad background story. The odd man in is Abraham (Nicholas Sloan), the lone Jew, whom the boys need because he can write lyrics.

Each character gets a solo turn. The songs (by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick), are rhythmically varied and mostly upbeat, feature close harmony and gently satiric lyrics. One that provokes giggles is “The Calling,” in which Jesus “called me on my cell phone! He beeped me! He faxed me! He emailed my soul!”

Juan gets to shine on the salsa number “La Vida Eternal;” Matthew sings to an audience draftee that “something about you makes me want to wait.”

On the other hand, there’s the clunkily-handled “Everybody Fits,” a hymn to inclusion, which dilutes its message when each boy holds a stuffed lamb (Abraham’s is dressed as a Jew).

These boys are lucky to have extensive and eminently watchable choreography by Michael Mizerany of Malashock Dance. In addition to the expected steps and arm movements reminiscent of boy bands of the past, there’s a rap song complete with break dancing and cartwheels.

The show has one major problem: sound. Sometimes the boys hold faux microphones. They need to get live ones, because too many lines and lyrics are lost, sometimes to poor diction, occasionally to power from the fine four-man combo of musicians.

But there’s plenty of energy and talent here.

No need to bring your critical faculties or expect a heavy message: “Altar Boyz” is just for fun. In this it succeeds admirably.

The details

“Altar Boyz” plays through Aug.19 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.

Monday and Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 7 and 10 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 220-0097 or visit ¬HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.