Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of The SpongeBob Musical
Altar Boyz centers on a Christian boy band presenting the final concert in their national "Raise the Praise" tour. They've come to Scottsdale to cleanse our souls with their hip-hop dance moves and funky fresh beats. However, in the process, the "boyz" end up learning a lot about themselves and each other, and about the power of friendship and the positive feeling that comes when you help out your fellow man.
Kevin Del Aguila's book creates characters and situations that are universally appealing, even if you aren't Christian or a fan of boy bands. While the irreverent humor in the show pokes fun at religion, it's also sweet natured and sincere. The songs by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker are varied and catchy, with upbeat group numbers plus solos for each band member and humorous lyrics that play off of boy band hit songs and the Christian themes of the show. From the endearing characters and upbeat songs and messages, it's easy to see how the original Off-Broadway production of the show ran for five years and played more than 2,000 performances.
The five members of the cast are all excellent, with strong stage presence, tight dance moves, and good vocals. As Matthew, the heartthrob leader of the group, Jeremy Yampolsky exhibits perfect leadership qualities and a warm and sunny disposition. His delivery of the love ballad "Something About You" is both romantic and hilarious. I don't want to give too much away about the character of Mark but Declan Skaggs is giving an excellent performance, probably the best I've seen, of this young man who has a deep fondness for and a close relationship with Matthew. With perfect comic delivery and facial expressions that get big laughs, Jack Yampolsky is hilarious as Abraham, the group's sole Jewish member. Hayden Skaggs is Luke, the bad boy who isn't the smartest kid and has suffered from a few bouts of what he calls "exhaustion," and Evan Kaushesh is lovable as Juan, a Latino member of the group. I believe all five cast members have appeared in several past shows together, in addition to four of them being two sets of brothers, and they create characters you can believe have known each other for years.
Lisa Figueroa's direction perfectly plays up the humor in the piece without losing site of the big heart at its center. She has done a wonderful job with her cast to ensure each band member is realistic, different and distinct, even though they are standard boy band archetypes. Figueroa also makes good use of the entire space, including the aisles in the audience, so the entire audience feels part of the show. Nick Flores' superb and extremely varied choreography is danced exceptionally well by the entire cast. It plays off of traditional boy band group steps and moves, while making fun of and also honoring the familiar dance steps. The music direction from Jay Melberg delivers gorgeous harmonies along with many sweet-sounding solo numbers. While Desert Stages' Actors Café space is small, I only wish the cast wore microphones, as at the performance I attended, the solo vocals were sometimes hard to hear over the great backing tracks by Thomas Hartwell.
With an excellent cast, direction that perfectly plays up the parody and irreverent humor in the script, and dance moves that are sensational, Desert Stages' energetic production of Altar Boyz is outstanding and a lot of fun.
Altar Boyz runs through July 3, 2022, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre at Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit desertstages.org or call 480-483-1664.
Director: Lisa Figueroa