Reviewed on Thursday 9th October 2014
Following a five-year run off-Broadway, Altar Boyz has found its way to London where it receives a short off-West End run at the Greenwich Theatre. The musical takes place on the last night of a Christian boyband’s tour.
Luckily I took my seat knowing that Altar Boyz is supposed to be light hearted and a little tongue-in-cheek. However, if I didn't have that knowledge I think I would have wondered what world I had wondered into. The atmosphere seemed a little awkward in the theatre, people were smiling but the evening lacked excitement.
Altar Boyz is essentially a concert with occasional moments of speech. A book writer is credited in the programme, but the text is totally bizarre. A story is non-existent and the scenes are very odd. Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker's score is catchy, successfully capturing the sound of 90s boybands. I just wish I had listened to the soundtrack before seeing the show as all the songs blurred into one and I couldn't remember a single tune as I left the theatre.
As the Altar Boyz are a Christian boyband the lyrics feature a selection of jokes which make fun of religion. However, after seeing the likes of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q and Urinetown, Altar Boyz barely begins to scratch the surface. It could go so much further and be so much funnier - perhaps it is dated.
Steven Dexter's production is possibly the most ambitious show I have ever seen at the Greenwich Theatre. There are pyrotechnics, big lights, a fantastic live band and even a sprinkling of confetti. However, something didn't flow quite right and I found the whole evening very strange.
Ewan Jones' choreography is full out, featuring moments of glory. On occasion the cast appeared under rehearsed as their execution wasn't as slick or as impressive as it could be. Some performances were questionable and vocals weren't top notch. Harmonies could be tighter and some notes weren't quite reached during solos. There were no disasters, but some notes (particularly during the final number ‘I Believe’) were very flat.
The star of the show is Liam Doyle who is a true triple threat. Doyle performed with charm and character, never missing a beat or note. His expressions and energy levels were spot on throughout, performing to the highest standard possible. He understood the humour and stood out during every single dance number. Doyle's vocal tone is smooth and each time he left the stage he was hugely missed. If Doyle ever fancied a career change any boyband would be lucky to have him as a member, but let’s hope he continues to jump from musical to musical.
Although this production may not be perfect, I think the material (or lack of it) is to blame for the show’s awkwardness. I tried hard to invest and to get into the show, clapping along and bobbing my head, but I couldn't quite get it. I know Altar Boyz isn't supposed to be taken seriously, but I'm not quite sure what the show is trying to do or why there are peculiar scenes between songs that don’t go anywhere. It just makes no sense and has no heart, once I had seen the first ten minutes I had seen it all.
Altar Boyz isn't a waste of time; it's good, harmless fun and random escapism. I'm just struggling to identify who I would recommend it to. Perhaps I should download the soundtrack, drink lots of wine and give it another go.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Altar Boyz runs at the Greenwich Theatre until Saturday 18th October 2014.
Please visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk for information and tickets.