For the Motor City sit-down of droll Off Broadway boy-band spoof “Altar Boyz,” capable helmer Stafford Arima has cast a bunch of guys who look only just about old enough to drink in the attached lobby bar. That requires some compromises from the Gotham original when it comes to sophisticated satirical chops, but this apple-cheeked, sweet-voiced, seemingly guileless crew certainly fits the squeaky-clean gestalt of the boys in the band. And they throw their limber, young limbs into the witty dancing without so much as a creak.
There’s some notable overpushing early in the show, and the ethnic jokes mainly land with thuds, in part because the guys doing the delivery can’t all agree on the stylistic rules. But this little clutch of charmers eventually shows it can win over a hinterland crowd hitherto largely unaware of either title or that which it’s spoofing.
In Detroit, the place was full of middle-age Nederlander subscribers to the regular road season. Most watched with arms folded for the first half-hour, but they relaxed and smiled toward the end. That palpable change of heart was thanks in no small measure to the satirical and melodic sophistication of Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker’s archly funny score.
The long-term plan here is to create several “Altar Boyz” companies that can be mixed and matched in the Blue Man mold. A Chi sit-down is on the books. And there’s also likely to be a touring version (maybe several) designed to fit the 300- to 500-seat second stages that have sprouted at numerous nonprofit arts centers across the country. Based on the Detroit look, all of that seems eminently doable for fun and profit.
To his great credit, original director Arima put a very decent gloss on the show, which has been maintained in this road version. Production values are often iffy on the road with shows in this size of house. But “Altar Boyz” is a much more glam affair, its costumes, zip and panache all likely to exceed expectations.
In this cast, the strongest work comes from Corey Boardman and Andrew C. Call, who have knockout pipes and decent comic timing. Zach Hanna’s Mark telegraphs the big gay joke — which is not all that funny to begin with — far too much. But he, too, is a terrific singer with the right look.
The producers and booker will need to watch out for some of the more conservative markets that might find a crucifixion pose worked into a comic dance number cutting too close to the local cultural nerve.
But with that major caveat aside, “Altar Boyz” surely will do well on the road. It feels fresh. It will pull the likes of gay, fringe and teen auds, without being too much for the traditional crowd. It has a big asset in its peppy live band, which duplicates the synthetic sound still associated with much bigger houses.