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Boy band rises from dead

Boy bands are dead, but their songs remain with us. They are trilled on mixes, in shower stalls, heard from car windows: e, bye, bye.

"I think we all, whether we admit it or not, are fans of ‘N SYNC and the Backstreet Boys," confesses Joshua Black, who plays Luke in the Egyptian Theatre’s musical comedy "Altar Boyz."

The 90-minute concert-cum-musical opened Friday and runs Wednesday to Sunday through Aug. 2. The Egyptian is the first theater west of the Mississippi to take on the off-Broadway farce about a Christian boy band that croons songs such as "Girl, you make me want to wait" and "The Calling": "Jesus called me on my cell phone/No roaming charges were incurred/He told me that I should go out in the world/And spread his glorious word."

The five-man band wails choruses, twists and emotes as though the Holy Trinity were composed of Singing, Dancing and Acting and Jesus Christ were a girl swooning in the audience.

As in the boy bands of the 1990s, every member of Altar Boyz fits a personality type. Luke is the gangster wannabe. Juan (Phil Lowe) is the Latin one. Abraham (William Richardson) is the Jewish one. Mark (Kevin Jordan) is the sensitive one, and Mathew (Thomas Asher Marcus) is the banner-waving leading man.

The show is cheeky, Black said, but not offensive. "I don’t feel like we’re taking shots at anyone," he said. "The audience is basically a part of the show. It’s like a concert." At a technical rehearsal Tuesday, Black wore an oversized basketball jersey, baseball cap and a huge golden crucifix to play his character. "My bling for the King," he explained.

Black was raised LDS and has played a missionary in Salt Lake Acting Company’s "Saturday’s Voyeur." He has also been in "Peter Pan" at the Egyptian. He said performing in Park City is a refreshing variation from the more conservative audiences likely found in the Salt Lake Valley.

Kevin Jordan said he expects a rousing reception from Park City audiences. He is a student at Brigham Young University and watched some Provo audience members sneer when one of Jordan’s colleagues performed "Epiphany," a song from the Altar Boyz canon that parodies coming out. "Park City audiences are probably closer to audiences on a cruise ship than those in Provo," he said. "In Provo, you have to assume 95 percent of your audience is Mormon."

Not that that’s a bad thing. Jordan said "Altar Boyz" treats both religion and boy bands with a gentle hand. "When I was explaining it to my mom I thought that she’d think it was a little bit sacrilegious," he said. "But it’s really not. It’s like the difference between going to a calm, quiet Mormon service and to a Southern Baptist service."

Jordan said the opportunity to sing, act and dance on stage was hugely appealing.

"These guys are all triple threats," Larry West, the director, said. "Comedy is more craft-driven than drama. It relies on very specific timing and movement and precision. It’s a little more cerebral, not as emotional as drama."

West, who has directed productions in Salt Lake City and the Egyptian in the past, said "Altar Boyz" can be enjoyed for its music, humor and heart. "’Altar Boyz’ is so interesting on so many levels," he said. "What’s important as a director is to have the actors play it honestly and earnestly. We don’t get campy with it."

The cast started rehearsing three weeks ago. Phil Lowe, whose character Juan speaks with the rolling inflection of a mariachi singer, said the cast’s rapport offstage has started to mimic their roles onstage. "It’s interesting that our dynamic has started to become reflective of our dynamic in the band."

Jordan, perhaps channeling Mark, chimed in, "I think I’m a dancer at heart."

"Altar Boyz" was written by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport and directed by Stafford Arima. It’s based on a book by Kevin Del Aguila. The show garnered positive reviews in New York.

Marketing director Naziol Nazarina said ticket sales for "Altar Boyz" have been sluggish so far but will likely pick up as the show gains buzz. "This isn’t a show that’s a classic," she said. "It’s not a show that people know, but it’s cool to have a new show. For us, a lot of it relies on word of mouth."

Michelle Robbins choreographed "Altar Boyz" and tried to make the dance movements in the play feed the comedic message. "You can make the dances really literal to what they’re saying," Robbins said. "We’ve really tried to use the choreography as part of the humor. Something happens every eight counts. It makes people want to dance."

Any maybe, the Egyptian hopes, go to a Sunday matinee.

For tickets and show times, go to Egyptiantheatrecompany.org.


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