When you think about Altar Boyz coming to the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts April 7 then following up at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia April 8 (both shows at 7:30), you have to grin a perplexed little grin of anticipation.
After all, it’s based on a premise that combines two of the more inherently ironic pop culture entities into a boy-band-meets-Christian-rock sundae, with an extra dollop of light and frothy satire for good measure.
You don’t think boy bands are ironic? Not sold that Christian rock might be a contradiction in terms? Let me make my case, me with my “I took too much psychology in college” background.
I think about rock and roll and its rebel-with-a-pelvic-thrust beginnings. I think of the sexual threat icons like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis posed to innocent audiences and cousins. Flash forward to the hard-and-fast blatant sexuality of The Rolling Stones, or the tight-jeans-and-spandex-clad sex-on-strings heavy metal bands leading to hair bands (think classic rock-meets-sex: Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.”) — they had slow songs, fer-sure, but what was that about? Think back to the lights dimming in high school dances. How many clinched bodies did you spy? (And that probably was not chapstick in that dude’s pocket.)
This whole slow-dance phenomenon leads nicely into the topic at hand: think boy bands, and you always must think power ballad. Who can forget “Please Don’t Go Girl?” Or “I’ll be Lovin’ You (Forever)” by arguably the first mega-boy band, the New Kids on the Block? But these songs, geared toward the ‘tween set, sucked the life (and sex) out of the rock ballad and turned it into an anthem a teary 11-year-old could wail along to while thinking of whichever boy in the band she most loved (that her best friend allowed her to like.) Condensed: it’s girls crushing on boys.
Then take one component of Christian rock, the power ballad. Again, taking the rebellion out of a musical form and serving it up with a long-stemmed spoon for sweet Christian girls to croon at the top of their lungs in a similar emotion, only it’s girl crushing on Jesus.
So then, for all intents and purposes — a preview of Altar Boyz, a show that won the 2005 Outer Critics Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical — let’s combine the two phenomena, and let’s throw in a cast of characters that includes, to quote from a Windwood Productions send-up of the piece, “lead singer Matthew (the pretty-boy hunk and leader of the pack), Mark (a sensitive young man with a deep faith in Cher), Luke (a bad-boy with an “interest” in communion wine), Juan (a hot-blooded crooner with a passion for pretty girls) and Abraham (a nice Jewish boy, who’s not quite sure how he ended up here ... though his mother would sure like to know).”
The show follows the five “Boyz” from Ohio (though the performing cast is from New York City) on the last night of their “Raise the Praise” tour, intended to be a soul-saving sweep of stadiums far and near. They dance their little hearts out (perhaps not as innocently as granny would like?) and sing lyrics like, “Something about you, baby girl, you make me wanna wait” and “Jesus called me on my cell phone” while their secrets unfold and circumstances beyond their control threaten to disband them.
It’s a show that is satiric and wry, but not anti-religion. And while it’s billed as “family friendly” it’s possible that the subject matter is best appreciated by those at or above “crushing” age.
Even still, it’s like the best of root beer floats, light and frothy and sugar-high inducing.
[Pantages Theater, April 7, 7:30 p.m., $39-$72, 901 Broadway, downtown Tacoma, 253.591.5894]
[Washington Center, April 8, $16.75-$45, 512 Washington St. S.E., downtown Olympia, 360.753.8586]