New Jersey Jewish News
Altar Boyz didnt leave me laughin
Altar Boyz is the story of a Christian boy-band out to save souls during their Raise the Praise tour. How I joined three others in seeing it is the story of what happens when our designated ticket buyer got to the half-price ticket booth on Broadway and 48th Street only to find that nearly everything was sold out. There were, however, lots of tickets left for Altar Boyz, so she snapped up four of them, and we made our way way off Broadway to the Dodger Stages to watch five Ohio-born boys tell us how they were born again, and what hair gel they prefer.
Even at a running time of an hour and a half, Altar Boyz was surely the longest matinee I ever spent in any theater, on or off of Off Off Broadway. Where to begin? Well, before the Altar Boyz made their way on stage, there was a smoke machine belching out enough clouds to almost disguise the fact that two, count em, two, keyboards and a set of drums would soon be blasting away. And blast away they did as three guitarists added their noise to the mix. The result sounded like a jet engine circling our collective heads.
Whatever may be said about the Altar Boyz, they are a high-energy outfit, combining Christian rock with rap-like riffs and occasional break dancing. They have oodles of energy. I soon had a world-class headache. Their message? That God called me on my cell phone (a signature Altar Boyz tune), and told each of them to spread the Good News. To keep a tally of how many people in the audience needed saving, the Altar Boyz called our attention to a television monitor that, at the beginning of the show, beamed out an oversized 430, no doubt the number of seats in the house. The Altar Boyz, born and reared in Ohio, presumably had their work cut out for them in godless Manhattan.
And work the crowd they did. Altar Boyz is a G-rated, family-friendly review, but many of the people in the audience, sporting Altar Boyz T-shirts and singing along in full throat, were middle-aged or better. It didnt take long before I was squirming in the seat I didnt belong in. At this point I should mention that Altar Boyz won an Off-Broadway musical award and one reviewer after another went out of his or her way to talk about the shows humor and its gentle message about love that would not, could not, offend anybody.
Ill be the judge of that, thank you very much and offended I was. One of the Altar Boyz was named Abraham. He wore a yarmulke and wondered what he was doing in a Christian rock band. I had the same wonderment, and I was not in the least consoled when Abraham looked up at a crucifix on the wall and noted that the person staring down at them was Jewish, nor did I get swept up in his newfound faith when he joined the other Altar Boyz in enthusiastic song.
Meanwhile, the numbers on the television monitor kept slowly going down (their songs were clearly turning things around) until they stopped at four, indicating the number of nonbelievers still left, or put another way, indicating the people sitting on my immediate right and left. I expected trouble, but none came (Altar Boyz is gentle and is not to be confused with the Spanish Inquisition), and, miracle of miracles, the number ended up at zero, just as the five guys belted out the last song. Their Raise the Praise was, once again, a hit.
To say that the script for Altar Boyz was dumb is to do a disservice to the word dumb, although fairness demands that I acknowledge that many reviewers found the lines badly essayed by the Altar Boyz to be charming. My hunch is that all the ordinary rules by which musical reviews are judged fly out the window when evangelical Christians are packing the house. Critics tread very gingerly, lest they offend a growing political force by pointing out just how wretched Altar Boyz in fact is.
I will survive my afternoon with the Altar Boyz (after all, I am no stranger to Off -Broadway shows that bomb), but I worry a good deal about the mainstreaming of what was formerly a limited-taste phenomenon. Seeing Abraham on stage belting out his songs to Jesus gave me the willies; those in the audience found it just dandy and were glad, mighty glad, that he had joined the ranks of those who were born again.
I realize full well that it is the mission, perhaps the central mission, of Evangelicals to spread the Good News. What has saved their lives from alcoholism, adultery, or just plain old despair can save others. Take away the smoke machines and the throbbing keyboards, the rock rhythms and the rap gyrations, and what Altar Boyz is about is making evangelical Christians both comfortable and downright joyous and making others, especially Jewish others, feel that sometimes a half-priced ticket is no bargain.
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