Heart and Soul
A wholly spirited conversation with the cast and director of Altar Boyz
Altar Boyz walks a fine line between sincerity and parody, but all those involved insist that they're trying to keep it as real as possible. "It comes from a very honest place," says Porter, the only cast member who was not also part of the NYMF run. Arima agrees: "I think one of the strengths of the show is that it's based in a genuine spirit that these boys are real in the sense of their commitment to their own faith, their belief in brotherhood, and their respect for each other." Karl adds that "a lot of the humor is based in Catholic ritual. People who went to Catholic school will laugh because they remember doing certain gestures that are mimicked in the choreography, but it's not making fun."
According to Duncan, the musical is more a send-up of the boy band phenomenon, yet this doesn't mean that the songs are directly derivative of that genre. Says Porter, "The music in the show is pop music, but there's so much that gets put into pop; there's pop rock, pop R&B, Latin pop. We don't get stuck singing just the bubblegum stuff." And the angelic harmonies achieved by the Altar Boyz are very special. "The blend of our five voices is great," Porter continues. "Boy bands wouldn't be able to pull this off."
Porter is presumably speaking from experience in that 4:2:Five, an a cappella group to which he belonged, opened for such boy bands as 98°. "It was awesome to perform in front of 10,000 people at once," he says. "Good times!" None of the rest of the Altar Boyz cast has any boy band experience, but Porter states that "I have enough for everybody."
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli puts the cast through their paces with a high-octane mixture of moves that pay tribute to both boy band aesthetics and Catholic iconography. "The combination of singing and dancing is almost like a sport," says Duncan. "You get the music into your voice, the dancing in your body, and your stamina kind of follows." Adds Josefsberg: "The choreography is so fun, the music is rewarding to sing, and the script has so much heart."
Altar Boyz has a score by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, and a book by Kevin Del Aguila, based on a concept by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport. "I was brought into the project two and a half years ago, when the composers just had this idea and three songs" says Arima. "It's been an incredible process to be involved in, developing this piece from its beginnings and working with such talented artists."
The NYMF run allowed the cast to see just how much the audience could become a part of the show; according to Karl, "It literally took it to a new level of performing." Maynard adds, "We definitely have to be on our toes because the entire audience is in the show with us. We engage them so much." As they prepared for the show's Off-Broadway debut, the company spent even more time honing the material. Notes Karl, "There's a new song for my character." Says Duncan: "We've been able to elaborate on ideas that I think we would have liked to do at NYMF. The tone of the show is the same but it's a little bit of a different animal now."