What makes the perfect boyband?
It’s a question that record labels have been asking themselves for years, but the Altar Boyz have got it down. All-American and all-Christian, the five-piece consists of the usual tropes: the cute leader, the one who’ll turn out gay, the ethnic one, the cool rapping dancer and…the jew?
Altar Boyz is a musical masquerading as a pop concert. There is no real narrative; instead the boys/z entertain us with a series of songs that detail their origins, their rise to fame and their religious beliefs. The excellent band are on-stage behind a backdrop of ALTAR BOYZ (ironically spelt YOBZ at the start) and an X Factor style voiceover (the voice of God? Simon Cowell?) introduces the show. Even the programme is laid out like a piece of fan merchandise.
The show, then, is a pastiche of boy bands, full of vocal riffs, nasal singing, cheesy routines and (not so) subtle innuendo (“God put the rhythm in me…he put it in me” they sing on one song, whilst on another ballad they purr “you make me wanna wait” – no sex before marriage and all that). The religious element is perhaps a satire on how for some young fans, seeing their favourite band onstage can be likened to a religious experience. Yet the show never really comments on religion itself; it’s more a conduit for the smug, squeaky clean performers who are more sinful than they’d have you believe.
The characterisation, though, is shallow. Through the music, we slowly discover more about the boys/z and how they all conform to stereotype. Yet the show never takes us backstage, to the real world. Instead, we only ever see them through the filter of their performance. It’s false – a plastic and impenetrable façade.
The songs, like the characters, are conventional – all 80s synths, hip-hop beats and sickly sweet ballads. The tunes are catchy and the juxtaposition of boyband style with religion never fails to amuse, but the songs don’t quite stand up in their own right. There are plenty of musical theatre references too – from copying the belted final note of ‘Defying Gravity’, to their self-written finale number ‘I Believe’ being oddly reminscent of the song of the same name in Book of Mormon (perhaps unintentionally).
The real joke, however, is that the performers are incredibly talented. The singing – both solo and in harmony – is consistently excellent and the comedically choreographed routines well danced. In particular, Jonny Fines plays up the sassy camp Mark, and Faisal Khodabukus hilariously mis-pronounces words as Juan. At the very least, the Altar Boyz put on a great show of pure entertainment, and on that level the show is a triumph.
Watch: Altar Boyz runs at the Greenwich Theatre until 18th October.