Let's hear it for the 'Boyz'

It's a lot easier to spoof politics than religion. There is a thin line between parody and patronizing.

It would have been easy for "Altar Boyz" to cynically trash Christian rock as well as adolescent cute-boy bands. But it doesn't.

With all its satire, broad comedy and goofy situations, "Altar Boyz" never mocks the band's mission &

to spread the Good News and save souls. Parody is difficult to pull off and this latest production at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre manages to do it with skill, sweetness and enthusiasm.

The "Altar Boyz" is a Christian rock band. Inspired by an insistent calling (Why wouldn't Jesus use a cell phone?), these four unlikely sinners have been saved, choreographed and sent on a "Raise the Praise" tour.

There is sexy, hunky Matthew (Damian Shembel). Sweet, sensitive Mark (Jonathan Hoover). Street-smart, rapping Luke (Dolan Wolfe-Callanta). Sincere, searching Juan (Daniel Plancarte). And yarmulke-wearing Abraham (Josh Blye).

Abraham? Apparently, he wandered into the church where the guys were rehearsing, felt the rhythm, got the spirit and things just went from there. ("Do they let Jewish people into church?" questions Luke. "Well, there's the guy on the cross above the altar," responds Abraham.)

Their story is told in rock, hip-hop and ballads interspersed with energetic choreography and some great rap moves. Whether they are singing about biblical miracles, how to behave during the liturgy or coping with emotional disappointment or sexual appetites, the "boyz" are always genuine, always appealing. The double-entendres are gentle if they aren't exactly subtle.

And then there is the conceit of the Soul Sensor DX-12, a flat screen monitor above the stage. The LED display on the Soul Sensor is supposed to show the number of "burdened souls" in the audience and it is the band's goal to bring that number down to zero by the end of the show by telling their own stories &

testifying to how God changed their lives. It's a cute gimmick and keeps the show moving. It also sets the scene for the final confrontation and reconciliation on stage.

Jim Giancarlo directed and choreographed, with additional choreography by Jonathan Hoover and "the rest of the cast." The actors are all newcomers to the Cabaret and they are all wonderful with beautiful voices, good dancing &

with some unexpected gymnastics from Wolfe-Callanta &

and more than adequate actors.

The Cabaret also has a new musical director for the show, Chris Kong, here on keyboards. He is joined by Cabaret veteran Jim Malachi on percussion and newcomers Meagan Iverson on keyboard and Matt Gwinup on guitar.

Scenic designer Craig Hudson has made good use of the Cabaret's magnificent stained glass window as a backdrop for the scaffolding set and a mostly bare stage. Lighting is by Benjamin Crary Brown. Keri Lea Robbins contributed the funky, contemporary costumes.

The book is by Kevin Del Aguila as conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport. Music, lyrics and vocal arrangements were done by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. "Altar Boyz" opened Off-Broadway in 2005 and is still playing.

As the New York Times put it in its review: "Finally, a dopey Off-Broadway musical that actually works."

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