‘Altar Boyz’ saving mission comes to S.F. 

Stage producer Ken Davenport has come up with a winning formula: cute guys in tight clothes singing tight harmonies.

He admits it’s not really his idea. His hit off-Broadway show, "Altar Boyz," which opens at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre this week, is just a new variation on an old theme.

"The boy band craze started with the Beatles," he said in a recent phone interview from his New York office. "The ‘Altar Boyz’ story is similar to ‘Jersey Boys.’"

(Both shows are being presented in The City now by SHN’s "Best of Broadway" series.)

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Anytime you put together a bunch of attractive boys who can croon, you’ve got success, Davenport maintains, from the Four Freshman and the Four Tops to the Beatles, Bon Jovi and ‘N Sync.

Having produced the popular "Forever Plaid," a spoof of 1950s pop groups with adorable male vocalists, and taking into account comedies such as "Nunsense," Davenport says, he and collaborator Marc Kessler decided to "boy band up the Catholic story."

They called in Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker to write the song and Kevin Del Aguila to pen the book.

It worked. The show, which debuted during the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004 and opened off-Broadway in 2005, won the 2005 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best off-Broadway Musical. A Korean tour, which took the show to a 1,000-seat theater in Seoul, was "unbelievable," Davenport says.

There’s been no downside, not from Christians who might possibly be offended by the notion of a pop group featuring Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (the Jewish one).

Not only has the show been blessed with good reviews, Davenport says, "We’ve even been blessed by a priest."

Yet the show’s themes are even more universal than religion, according to Davenport. You don’t have to be Catholic to enjoy it, he says, because it’s mostly about love and brotherhood — and because its light jabs at tradition and convention are truly funny.

It’s spawned fanatics called "Altarholics," mostly young girls, who see the show dozens of times, hang out at the stage door to meet the actors and generally spread the word about its joys. Some 2,000 are registered online.

What distinguishes "Altarholics" from rock or pop groupies, though, is that they actually can communicate in person with the objects of their affection.

Davenport sees "Altar Boyz" as sort of an antidoteto the sleaze and vacuous material that’s so pervasive in the mainstream media, and that’s another reason for its appeal: "This is the band we wish was on TV — MTV would never have this. This is the utopian dream we wish our society was."


Altar Boyz

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

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Leslie Katz

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