A pious pop parody at 1st Stage

Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

"Altar Boyz" at 1st Stage is a lively, up-tempo pop-rock spoof of boy bands and Christian-themed music in contemporary America. The premise is that this is a group of singers from Ohio called the Altar Boyz on its national tour. The singers are doing one last performance of their "Raise the Praise" concert, designed to save audiences from sin through "spectacular dance moves and heavenly-inspired harmonies."

The creators of "Altar Boyz," Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport, and the writer of the book, Kevin del Aguila, cleverly set this parody in "The Present." The setting is "The Theater You're In." So wherever they play, they just need a few references to a nearby area to make the show seem relevant.

In this case, there are several references to Tysons Corner (where 1st Stage is located), and the show is prefaced by a video of the band dancing with a class at Jazzercise, which is right next to 1st Stage.

'Altar Boyz'
Where: 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, McLean
When: Through Dec. 30
Info: $15 to $30; 703-854-1856;

The members of the Altar Boyz are all accomplished singers and dancers. There's Matthew (B.J. Gruber), Mark (Edward C. Nagel), Luke (Derek Tatum), Juan (Jonathan Walker), Abraham (Zack Powell) and an unseen Announcer and voice of G.O.D. (Aaron Phillips).

Each one of the singers is given a distinct personality. Gruber is the leader of the Boyz. Nagel's falsetto lights up many of the songs. Tatum is a tall, slender actor who is a good singer but an extraordinary dancer. Walker is supposed to be a Mexican on the lookout for his parents, whom he lost at birth. Powell is meant to be Jewish and is insecure about his presence in the band, but sings for the glory of God anyway.

The book is a bit thin, but the score by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker is full of imaginative melodies and tight harmonies. The choreography by Jeremy McShan uses mainly up-to-date dance moves, with occasional nods to salsa and soul. The direction by Steven Royal is sharp and crisp.

Royal's set gives the sense of a concert stage, with three sets of mirrored stairs leading to a platform above the stage. Musicians Walter "Bobby" McCoy, J'Michael D'Haviland, Nate Wilkinson and Jim Hoffmann sit around the platform, near the rear of the stage.

Because each cast member gets to lead one song, by the end of the musical you feel as though you know each one of the boys. Some of the best songs are "The Miracle Song," led by Abraham, "La Vida Eternal," sung passionately by Juan, and "Everybody Fits," a hymn to the family of man, which uses signing as well as singing and which seems to celebrate exactly what this peppy musical is all about.

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