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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Theater: Musical ‘Boyz’ you won’t find next door

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Surely, there are those of you out there privately lamenting the demise of the boy bands of the 1980s and ’90s — the New Kids on the Block and ‘N Syncs of the world. Well, you are in luck: A new band is coming to town. And you do not have to be a swooning teenage girl to go watch it perform.

“Altar Boyz,” the off-Broadway hit, is coming to the Wadsworth Theatre for nearly two weeks, starting Feb. 13. The show is a 90-minute spoof on boy bands filled with high-energy singing and dancing and irreverent humor.

The twist? The story centers on a Christian guy-group intent on saving the souls of the audience.

The group consists of an assortment of types, as every proper boy band should. There’s Matthew, the leader; Mark, the sensitive one; Luke, the bad boy, and Juan, the Latin lover. Oh, and there’s one more: Abraham, the Jew, or as the script calls him, “the gefilte fish out of water.”

Abraham’s presence in the group makes for fine comedy, but it also deepens the message of the musical parody, making a statement about the power of religion to bring people together.

Wearing a yarlmulke and Star of David medallion around his neck, Abraham is both part of the band and an outsider. He shares with the others a belief in God.

However, when he introduces himself at the start of the show, the other band members point out his difference: “He’s Jewish!” And when the others make the sign of the cross, Abraham traces in the air a Star of David.

Abraham gets big laughs during a flashback scene that shows how the band got started. Abraham walks into a church, where he finds a group of altar boys. One asks him, “Are Jewish people even allowed in the church?”

“I think so,” Abraham answers. “I just saw one on the cross above the altar.” Ba-dum-bum.

Marc Kessler, who conceived the show, along with Ken Davenport, said they first conceptualized a four-person band. But then they realized they could add “the outsider” archetype, and who would better fit that than a Jewish character?

“We didn’t want to make him a Jew for Jesus,” said Kessler, 35. Instead, Abraham would be a character who stays faithful to Judaism despite joining the band.

“This is going to sound corny,” Kessler said by phone from New York, “but to me, the essence of religion is bringing people together for a common good. Abraham saw that these [Christian] guys were doing good, were coming together despite their differences.”

So, in the spirit of brotherhood and for a love of pop music, Abraham joined them, he said.

One of the show’s producers, Robyn Goodman, played a critical role in keeping the character more real than stereotypical, Kessler said. Originally, the creators had Abraham’s mother checking up on her son throughout the show, monitoring what he was eating and making sure that he was doing OK. Goodman, who is Jewish, challenged the creators to dig deeper than that, Kessler said.

In the end, Kessler, a Catholic, and the creative team fashioned a Jewish character whom Kessler called a “cool guy” with “dignity” and a “great sense of who he is.”

“Altar Boyz” opened in New York in March 2005 and has been running ever since. Nick Blaemire, 22, plays Abraham in the show’s national tour, which began last October.

Blaemire, who considers himself half-Jewish, because his mother is Jewish but his father is not, described his character as “a bit of an outsider and an intellectual in the best and worst senses of the word: He is socially awkward but has his moments of brilliance.”

Abraham tries to act urban but does not quite pull it off. He raps, makes the peace sign and says things like “mazzletozzle, yo!” He wears a Magen David chain — Blaemire called it his “Star of David bling” — a blue T-shirt emblazoned with an Israeli flag and green cargo pants. Costume designer Gail Brassard was going for the Israeli army look, Blaemire said.

Abraham has his moments in the spotlight, leading the band in a song about everybody fitting in, for example. And ultimately, Abraham emerges as the hero of the show.

That makes Blaemire a hero, too. On a MySpace blog dedicated to “Altar Boyz,” girls fawn over the character, calling him “adorable,” “such a cute guy” and “so cool.”

“We loved all of the ‘BOYZ’ but my fave had to be Abraham (Nick),” gushed one fan. “We got to meet them all after the show, and they are just as cool in real life.”

What can we say to that but, “mazzletozzle, yo!”

“Altar Boyz” will be at the Wadsworth Theatre from Feb. 13-25. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $28-$58 and are on sale at ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.altarboyz.com.

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