Ever wondered how insufferable Boyzone would be if they contracted a bad dose of religion? Well wonder no longer. Instead, head on down to The Greenwich Theatre where Altar Boyz, the wholesome fivesome of sweet-singing, tub-thumping, God-fearing, Bible-quoting examples of Ohio young-manhood are raising the roof in this uproariously funny and hugely enjoyable spoof show, here receiving it’s UK premiere after becoming the ninth-longest-running show Off-Broadway, notching up a very respectable five year run from March 2005 to January 2010.
The conceit is a simple one. After a time on the road the eponymous American Christian boy band from deep in the Bible-belt has hauled up in the final gig of their concert tour before they hit New York, and Madison Square Garden.
In this case the final date is the rather unlikely Greenwich (or Green-Witch as they endearingly keep calling it) and the stage is set for a heady mix of Take That and Billy Graham all through the power of song.
If this review were of the cast alone it would be five star, and then some. The team that casting director Will Burton has drawn together are no less a boy band than anything created by Louis Walsh.
There’s the ‘heart-throb’ one, who is obviously just a bit too big for the band, the closeted ‘gay’ one who is, naturally in love with another member of the band, the ‘muscle guy’ who has his personal demons, the foreign (in this case supposedly Hispanic) one, and the outsider, in this case because he’s Jewish…And they’re also conveniently ‘Biblical’ sounding, being respectively Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan (geddit) and Abraham.
Liam Doyle as Matthew has a sweet voice with great tone, and gets the pick of the songs. He also gets the biggest laugh of the evening at the end of the song ‘Something About You’ when he sings about abstinence.
Jonny Fines as Luke looks disconcertingly at times like Spiderman actor Toby Maguire, and by gesture and innuendo stays just this side of camp to be credible as a young man still wrestling with his sexuality.
Jamie-Ray Hartshorne plays the muscle-bound homeboy with some of the most incredible and spectacular street-dance moves you’ll see outside ‘the hood’.
Faisal Khodabukus as Juan, the putative orphan brought up by nuns, has some of the most poignant moments, which I won’t spoil, and milks them to perfection.
Alex Jordan-Mills is naughty-but nice as the young ringletted Jewish boy who wants to be a member of the band.
Every song is fully choreographed, and full credit needs to go to Ewan Jones for catching the genre so masterfully. The choreography is astonishingly, but perhaps more astonishing is the ease with which this quintet of super-fit young actors faultlessly execute it, the whole being brought together by the sound and deft directorial hand of Steven Dexter.
So why isn’t this a five star review? Well, to be honest this amazing production is actually let down by the writing. OK, there are flashes of brilliance, especially in the lyrics, but there are so many plotlines which are hinted at but never explored that the whole thing feels just a bit unfinished. Luke’s possible substance abuse problem. Abraham’s Jewishness. They’re all mentioned but remain under-explored. The final straw for me came three songs before the end when (spoiler alert!) after a real head of emotional steam had been built up, what should have been Luke’s big ‘coming out’ song was hijacked by him telling us that he was Catholic. Excuse me? It felt like a cop-out to make the show more palatable to a middle-of-the-road audience. Even one, dare I say it, that might have gone to see an overtly religiously boy band in the first place.
Would I recommend this show? Wholeheartedly. It’s a hoot and the cast are incredible. But more follow through with the writing, and it would have been a whole lot better.