Review: ‘Altar Boyz’ a slice of pop heaven 

There’s nothing not to like about "Altar Boyz." They have a much better sense of humor than their real-life counterparts (’NSync or the Backstreet Boys) and sing just as harmoniously. They’re just as cute, too.

The five characters — Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham — comprise the cast of the hit off-Broadway musical onstage at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre. The revue, in a fashion similar to that of "Forever Plaid," sweetly spoofs boy bands, with lots of laughs that go down easy and a huge heart. That the guys happen to be Christian adds to the fun, but theatergoers needn’t be religious to get the jokes.

The real stars of the show are the pitch-perfect songs by Gary Adler (who led the smokin’ band on Wednesday’s opening night) and Michael Patrick Walker. In these days where musicals are packed with instantly forgettable tunes, "Altar Boyz" stands out with its roster of radio-ready pop gems that certainly are funnier than (and actually improve upon) those sung by actual boy bands. (Sample lyric: "Jesus called me on my cell phone.")

The tight harmonies and bouncy choreography never let up, from the opening "We Are the Altar Boyz" to the closer "I Believe," with styles nicely veering from disco to Latin to hip-hop to gospel to rock and soaring Mariah Carey-worthy ballads.

The journey (clever book by Kevin Del Aguila) involves the band members closing their tour with a special San Francisco show during which they work to save the souls of everybody in the audience. And they can, thanks to the Sony "soul sensor," an electronic device that counts the sinners in the theater. At the outset, the number reads 1159, but by the end of a brisk 90 minutes, they’re down to a single-digit number, and, of course, everyone feels better having shared giggles, secrets, a few fears and love.

Matthew Buckner as Matthew, Ryan J. Ratliff as Mark, Jesse JP Johnson as Luke, Jay Garcia as Juan and Ryan Strand as Abraham are delightfully energetic in their roles, personifying their characters with just the right light-yet-real touch. In a post-modern era where cynicism and irony rule, "Altar Boyz" miraculously manage to be kind without being sappy, and clever without being mean.

Altar Boyz ***½

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes April 8

Tickets: $25 to $80

Contact: (415) 512-7770 or www.ticketmaster.com

lkatz@examiner.com

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Leslie Katz

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