This week, Basement Arts wants you to “Raise the Praise.” After playing two shows at Eastern Michigan University, “Altar Boyz” will take the stage at the Walgreen Drama Center this Friday. The show is a musical spoof about a fictitious Christian boy band of the same name. It follows the Altar Boyz as the band sings and dances its way through the last stop on its “Raise the Praise” world tour. But with a poppy ’90s five-piece headlining in a Jesus-centric world, this is no everyday concert.
Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m.
Towsley Studio, Walgreen Drama Center
“(In the musical) Sony has sponsored this machine that reads the souls in the audience — how many souls are lost and are in sin,” explained Erik Heitz, the Music, Theatre & Dance senior directing “Altar Boyz.”
“As the show goes, the Boyz’ goal is — through their teachings, through the lessons, the things they’ve learned in Bible school, through the songs that they wrote and stories they tell — to get that number down and down and down,” he added.
The show pokes friendly fun at both religion and ’90s pre-teen culture — particularly appropriate for the college-aged set.
“We all grew up with *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys and 98°, and all the girls goo-gooed and gaahed and all the guys pretended to hate it, but actually secretly at home knew all the songs,” Hietz said.
Music, Theatre & Dance junior Eric Maier confessed his preference for *NSYNC as a youth.
“I feel like now (boy bands are) retro,” Maier said. “My friend’s in a band and when they play house parties they’ll always throw in one old-school boy band number, and that’s the number that brings down the house, because everyone just is like, ‘This was my childhood.’ ”
Maier plays Abraham, the “quiet Jewish boy trying to fit into the (Christian) boy band.”
The Altar Boyz’ only non-Catholic, Abraham was recruited to the group after writing a term paper for bandmate Luke. But regardless of how much religion dictates the Altar Boyz’ motivation, each member of the Altar Boyz has his own boy-band persona.
“Luke wears a lot of ghetto gear because he’s kind of the rapper out of the gang, and then Matthew is like the ‘heartthrob,’ so he’s in a tank top and a bandana,” said Cody Davis, a Music, Theatre & Dance junior.
Davis’s character, Juan, was left on the steps of a church in Tijuana as a baby and was raised by nuns.
“The nuns taught (Juan) the ways of the Bible and how to speak with a Spanish accent,” Davis said.
Mark, the band member of ambiguous sexual orientation, “sings a song called ‘Epiphany,’ where you think he’s going to come out of the closet, but he actually confesses that he’s a Catholic,” Davis added.
Heitz said that the show is “very farcical and it does spoof a lot of things,” but it shouldn’t offend the religious.
“I grew up in Oklahoma, in the Bible Belt,” Davis said. “I still go to church today, and I love this show. I think it’s hysterical.”
Adding to the silly humor is the synchronized choreography in the production — all of which, like the acting and directing, is organized by students. During the number “Everybody Fits,” the band members snap and step in sync as they belt lyrics of questionable political correctness, like “It doesn’t matter if you’re yellow or white or red / It doesn’t matter if you’re pregnant and you’re unwed.”
Abraham finishes the song with a contorted facial expression and a falsetto reminder summing up the show’s ultimate message: Everyone — people of all religions and even the occasional snappily dressed former pre-teen idol — fits in God’s family.