ST. PETERSBURG — "We love to dance and rhyme. We quote the Scriptures all the time. We think that church is super fine. We love the wafers and the wine."
As these lyrics from Altar Boyz make clear, Stephen Sondheim has nothing to worry about. But if you've always wondered what a Christian boy band might be like, then this year's American Stage in the Park is must-see musical theater. Here are 10 commandments inspired by the show.
Honor thy dance moves: The best boy bands were the best dancers — Jackson Five, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync — and Altar Boyz has the goofy, MTV-ready moves down pat. Director-choreographer Steven Flaa has whipped the five guys into high-energy shape, and they never let up. Love that egg-beater hand jive shtick.
Thou shalt not murder any high notes: The vocal arrangements are ravishing, and Bradley Vile, playing the "sensitive one," Mark, climbs the octaves in spectacular fashion when he comes out as … a Catholic.
Thou shalt have no other gods but Avenue Q: Puppets are big in theater nowadays. One of Altar Boyz's sharpest spoofs is Everybody Fits, which features Abraham (Jonathan D. Lovitz, sporting a yarmulke) and lamb puppets — i.e., "the lamb of God" — as well as some great riffs from the band, conducted by Todd Lindamood.
Remember to keep thy book to a minimum: When the Boyz get away from song and dance, the show bogs down. The electronic "soul sensor," which keeps track of sinners in the audience, is amusing at first, but the joke pales on repetition. The finale's crisis over a record deal falls flat.
Thou shalt steal: Altar Boyz is howlingly funny when it embraces pop cliches with shameless abandon, as in the rap number led by Luke (Brendan Cataldo) about Christ and his "12-member crew"; or the sexy Latin lover type Juan (Nick Cearley) in La Vida Eternal.
Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain: "Jesus called me on my cell phone/No roaming charges were incurred."
Thou shalt not commit adultery: Or premarital sex. It's sweet when Matthew (Dick Baker) flashes his purity ring and plucks a woman from the audience to serenade her to "Just say no."
Let there be light: Altar Boyz is designed as a concert, so the set is your basic arena stage with ramps. But why is Kate Bashore's lighting so dim?
Thou shalt not take intermission: American Stage planned to break up Altar Boyz with an intermission, making time to sell more food and T-shirts at concession stands, a source of income for the theater. But the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which licenses rights to the show, insisted that it be performed as written, without intermission.
Shalt thou go? Yes, as long as you've been to Mass this week. And remember to bring a sweater. It can get chilly at night on the waterfront.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.