Jim Boggess, the Omaha Community Playhouse's veteran music director, confessed out loud: "Altar Boyz," which opens Friday, is distinctly unlike any musical he's conducted before.
Michael Patrick Walker, who wrote the show's music and lyrics with Gary Adler, said that's because it's about a boy band.
"The music style is not what you tend to get in modern rock musicals," Walker said from his home in New York City. "These are double-purpose pop tunes. They work as something the boy band might perform, but also in a theatrical context."
The show within a show finds the Altar Boyz giving their final concert of a national tour. A five-piece backup band stays onstage throughout the 90-minute, intermissionless piece.
The sendup songs may be double-purpose, but the five cast members must be triple threats — strong actors, singers and dancers. That worried director Susan Baer Collins. "The tight harmonies and rhythms are very much 'NSync and Backstreet Boys, so I knew we needed five really terrific singers. We got so lucky. These guys are fabulous."
Choreographer Melanie Walters, whose fast-moving, breath-stealing steps are a nearly nonstop workout done while singing, agreed.
"I could just throw things at them, and they did it," said Walters, who does similar choreography for area show choirs. "They can do it all equally well."
The characters, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham, are recognizable archetypes, Walters said: the leader (Paul Hanson), the sweet one (Joseph O'Connor II), the tough one (Quinton Stewart), the ethnic one (Roderick Cotton) and the one who doesn't completely fit (David Zenchuck).
While altar boys became a cultural hot topic a few years back, Collins said the show is user-friendly and, though funny, affectionate toward religion. The spoofy lyrics never get too pointed in lampooning Christian music.
Walker said he and his writing partners took four years to find that delicately balanced formula, which opened off Broadway in 2005 and ran nearly five years.
"We're not out to make fun of Christianity," he said. "It's the strange juxtaposition of singing about God, wearing tight pants and being a pop idol at the same time."
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