Two Tickets to Paradise: Altar Boyz hits the high notes at Theatre Memphis

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I've previewed Theatre Memphis' Altar Boyz, and interviewed the cast for WKNO's Local Color, so I think I'll keep the review short and sweet: It's a gem.

Altar Boyz never goes far enough for me. The satire is never risky enough to make it interesting as anything other than a showcase for multiple threat performers who can sing, shake that thing, and do light improv. It's a kinder, gentler parody, aspiring to be the Christian boy band version of This is Spinal Tap. Only the characters, especially the gay and Latino characters, are more stereotype than archetype and the songs are only occasionally better than so-so. But when it cooks, it cooks, and audiences who are in the mood for complete silliness with lots of shout-outs to Him ("Jesus Called Me on My Cell Phone") and two-fingered kisses for NSYNC, will find Cecelia Wingate's energetic production with smartly imagined choreography by Jared Johnson to be just what the doctor ordered, yo.


In which I interview the Altar Boyz

The setup: This isn't a play, it's a concert. The Boyz, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan—and Abraham (long story)—have a Sony device (Big ups Sony!) that measures sinfulness. They can’t stop popping and locking and testifying until all the demons have been exorcized and every person in the theater has been washed in the blood of the lamb.

If you think you know this show from its previous appearance at Circuit Playhouse, think again. Both performances boasted some great young talent but the NEXT Stage black box at Theatre Memphis tips the scales ever so slightly in favor of the revival. It's just a better space for an interactive show and this cast had no problems getting all up in our grill. For Christ.

I'm not this show's target demo by a stretch and had a blast. So did everybody else in the house, including an elderly woman with some sort of disorder that compelled her to shout things out loud like, "Hurry, hurry, hurry." This was, at first, more than a little distracting, but the boyz, and the audience rolled with it. And since the woman in question was clearly having a very good time, the relationship between the cast, the audience, and this uncommonly sweet disturbance evolved into one of my favorite examples of theater as a communal event. I might be wrong, but by the end of the show I think everyone was thankful for her participation, and how it turned a good show into an unusually fulfilling experience we'll all talk about for some time to come.

There are rumors of a January revival, but you know how rumors go. Altar Boyz closes this weekend so...

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

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