By Yuko Kurahashi
Coronado Playhouse is staging Altar Boyz, directed and choreographed by Michael Mizerany, as the first show of its 71st Season. In the intimate 120-seat theatre space adjacent to the Coronado Community Center, audiences are seated at tables to enjoy beverages and snacks before and during the show.
Set in Coronado at the present time, the Christian band members from a small town in Ohio are performing the last night of their national “Raise the Praise Tour.” The Boys—Mathew (Cody Ingram), Mark (SeeJay Lewis), Luke (Peter Armado), Juan (Patrick Mayuyu), and Abraham (Dennis Peters)—parody such contemporary issues as religious and racial tolerance and identity. Using music and dance from rap, hip-hop, funk, jazz, to modern, the Boys make fun of established religion, including the Catholic Church’s rules and customs in “Church Rules.” The show also criticizes, with humor, the impracticality of sexual abstinence for boys. Matthew sings “Something About You” to an audience member invited on stage with the lyrics of “you make me want to wait,” and “‘til then I’ll master”…“my own faith,” point out the rift between the church’s teaching and reality. The 90-minute performance follows the characters’ journey from the inception of their group to a recognition of their own weaknesses, to a celebration of understanding, compassion, and love.
Scenic designer Barron Henzel creates both a simple and practical stage with white platforms on two levels and the white sign “Altar Boyz.” Behind the platforms are four musicians (Michelle Gray, keyboard II; Nikko Nobleza, an electric guitar; and Raynald Marte, drums) led by musical director Sean LaPerruque (keyboard I).
Additionally at center stage is a device called “The Soul Sensor DX12” which is an electronic board to show how many people in the theatre are sinners. At the beginning of the show, the number is 99 and during the show, the number changes to reflect the results of the Boys’ songs and dance numbers.
Lighting designer Chad Oakley changes the background’s colors reflecting each song’s mood and lyrics. A moving light downstage center and two vertical disco-light bars at each side of the platforms evoke a music concert.
Costume designer Sarah Robinson highlights the differences in personality, ethnicity and religion of the Boys. For example, Juan wears black pants, a red shiny shirt and a suit vest. Abraham wears blue jeans, a white t-shirt and a yarmulke. Luke, the Bad Boy, wears a red baseball cap.
Mizerany’s choreography and direction creates an ensemble performance that displays the group dynamics, executing each number with clear intention and message. For example Lewis’s Mark hilariously exhibits his infatuation with Matthew and “confesses” who he really is through the song “Epiphany.” Other songs highlight and celebrate ethnic and religious diversity. Juan, an orphan boy from Tijuana, sings “La Vita Eternal,” to his saint, “St. Ricardo de Martin,” in order to overcome his sense of abandonment and loneliness. Peters’ Abraham explores his place and role in this Catholic boys’ group in “Everybody Fits.” Abraham is backed by the other Boys with white lamb hand puppets (Abraham lamb wears a yarmulke) to show, à la Sound of Music, the challenges of a cliquish environment.
Altar Boyz was created by songwriters Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker with book writer Kevin Del Aguila who based his script on an idea conceived by Marc J. Kessler and Ken Davenport (the producer as well). It premiered in September 2004 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival under the direction of Stafford Arima, followed by Off-Broadway production at Dodger Stages in March 2005. Coronado Playhouse previously presented Altar Boyz in concert in 2016 under the direction of Mizerany to rave reviews. This fine full production attests to Mizerany and his creative team’s (Kathy Parks, stage manager; Larry McNamer, sound designer; and Pam Everett, props and dressing) talent and effort in reviving the 12-year-old musical with such timely issues.
Altar Boyz is playing at Coronado Playhouse through February 19, 2017.