Porthouse production of Altar Boys lacks Mass appeal





At first blush, the show Altar Boyz now being offered at Porthouse Theatre looks highly intriguing. Five young men, Mathew (Elijah Lee King), Mark (Brandon Schumacker), Luke (Evan Waggoner), Juan (Antonio Emerson Brown) and Abraham (Devin Pfeiffer) are a Catholic Boy Band performing the last show of their national “Raise The Praise” tour (with G.O.D. (Rohn Thomas) making a special voice over appearance.

After the opening introduction number “We are the Altar Boyz” each member of the group is given a chance to shine and tell their ‘hidden” story. Juan was left on a church’s steps and raised by nuns and taught a horrible Latino accent. He searches for his long lost parents. Luke is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and driver of the group’s van who seems to be in the state of perpetual confusion. The group’s studly leader, Mathew is lusted after by Mark who is the groups gay member. Lastly, there is Abraham who except for the large Star of David necklace, colorful Yarmulka and T-shirt emblazoned with the Star of David on the front and back you would never guess that he is actually Jewish.

Add to this the “zany” Soul Sensor DX-12 that tells exactly how many lost souls are in the audience at any one time, starting at well over 300, and fluctuating numerically as the show progresses. There is also the “Confession Sessions” where the sins of audience members are read out loud and advice given on how to save themselves. In a word...awkward.

The Finale happens when there is discovered a mere four souls remain to be saved and “Number 918” is brought out. Waving Catholic religious objects (a crucifix, incense burner, holy water wand and rosary) with wild abandon through shear will the five determined zealots bring the last four lost souls into the fold just in time for the closing number. Amen.

So what went wrong. Realizing that it will take some time for theatrical productions to reach pre-Covid heights of entertainment the show is not a total loss. The dancing numbers expertly choreographed by Martin Céspedes are a stand out. He throws in a lot of Broadway themes from such works as Fiddler on the Roof, Singing in the Rain and Avenue Q with the dressed as the boyz puppets. The pace maintained by Director Terri J. Kent keeps the show from teetering into the pit of bad production.

The main problem is the absolute sameness of the five voices. Usually with a quintet you have five distinct types: Bass, Baritone, Tenor, Countertenor and in some cases Treble. This gives a rich and powerful fully harmonic effect in which the combined individuals as a whole are greater than the sum of its parts. Singing slight off key is not harmonization...it is annoying.

Add to this a group of unmemorable songs that nobody was humming as they left makes for a trying tad over two hours (with intermission) afternoon or evening.

But hey! Let us look at the positive side. Along with the dancing, the work of Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda in keeping the orchestra controlled so as not to drown out the singers really helped.

A trip out to Porthouse Theatre located in the rolling hills of Cuyahoga Falls on the Blossom Music Center property is still a picnic with friends and family. Sometimes you get to see really great shows and other times just good shows. It is just like a box of chocolates.

The set designed by Ben Needham is all silver scaffolding with lots of crosses that is overseen by a towering lit cross that is more disco than church. Somehow it fits the theme of the show well. The sound design by Parker Strong is as always exceptional with the voices coming out loud and clear and well mixed even when off key. Michelle Hunt Sourza’s costumes added to the boyz band effect.

On the plus side you have a lot of energy and some cute moments. On the down side there is the weak script, silly story lines and less than memorable songs. While the Sunday afternoon audience seemed enthusiastic in their applause some will see this show as not their cup of tea.

Altar Boyz will be at Porthouse Theatre, located on the grounds of Blossom Music Center at 1145 W Steels Corners Rd, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and will be on stage through August 15, 2021. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.kent.edu/porthouse/altar-boyz or call (330) 672-3884.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.