Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh God! - Altar Boyz (with Neil Haskell) and Saved The Musical - Musical Reviews

Altar Boyz - New World Stages - Off-Broadway, New York, NY
Music & Lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, Book by Kevin Del Aguila, Co-Conceived by Marc Kessler, Directed by Stafford Arima

Saved The Musical - Playwrights Horizon Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY
Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Book and Lyrics by John Dempsey, and Rinne Groff, Directed by Gary Griffin

Are you there God? It's me Vance.

I wanted to talk to you today and thank you SO VERY MUCH for bringing to this world the wonders of So You Think You Can Dance's Season 3 contestant Neil Haskell (and his body and the way his body moves) who now appears in the very funny Off-Broadway musical Altar Boyz over there on 50th Street where one can stalk spot him on the street on his way to work.

I would also like to thank you God for letting Neil actually have a wonderfully baritone voice that is able to pull off the pop ditties in the hysterical musical that spoofs boybands more than it does actual religion, always falling on the very thin line that somehow manages to be funny to both the religious and the non-religious by making fun of some of the customs of devotion rather than devotion itself.

For someone who hasn't talked to you God since he was forced to in the all boys Catholic high school I attended years ago, I was originally pleasantly surprised at how funny and sarcastic Altar Boyz could be without being controversial in a wholesome laugh-out-loud way.

And thanks again for letting Neil Haskell totally rock the house with his enhanced dance moves that were integrated into the show. Totally sweet and he was totally great in the role of Luke, the b-boy with "exhaustion" problems.

So God, are you still there?

I would like to talk about the new musical Saved currently running Off-Broadway.

I would like to thank you for the stellar cast that was put together but I wish the musical were better, because it's based on an amazingly funny satirical black comedy Saved! (starring Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Mary Louise Parker and Jena Malone, amongst others) that brilliantly skewers religious fanaticals at a Christian school.

I wish the musical didn't soften the razor sharpness of the original script and I wish the musical didn't try to make it more emotionally dramatic in sections that were intended, and worked better when they were played with ironic laugh or satirical bite.

I also wish the music and songs were better because to be honest, they would really need to rework almost every song, (ahem) save for the ensemble songs (like "In the Light of God", "Make It True", and "I'm Not The Man I Thought I'd Be") that work half decently (though partially (ahem) saved because of the great cast). In fact, I would almost want to replace the song writers as a whole, since there's a strong story in here with huge potentials that don't seem fulfilled at this point. Considering Altar Boyz can produce 90 minutes of surprisingly witty yet catchy songs, I had large hopes here but it was mostly unfulfilled with songs that seem to end abruptly when characters interject, as if it were trying to be a Sondheim book musical. It doesn't work here. It just sounds like the songs are incomplete.

I WOULD however like to thank God (oh, that's you) for bringing us Aaron Tveit, who plays the role of Dean, the boyfriend of Mary (our beloved lead Celia Keenan-Bolger) who confesses to being gay, which starts off the shenanigans in the script. Aaron Tveit really could be the next big thing in musicals, with a gorgeously handsome face, a gorgeously powerful voice to match, and some surprinsingly springy limber dance moves. Tveit has sort of burst out recently in Next to Normal, Hairspray and the lead in the latest workshop for Catch Me If You Can the Musical (demo with Matthew Morrison and Nathan Lane from the 2005 workshop here) and he has a certain everyman charm. Everyone woman wants him, every man wants to be him (or wants him) but Tveit carries it with a small town aw-shucks charm at the same time as pulling off the cool school jock role which is not as easy to pull off as one would think. I'm in love! (I'll have a Crushworthy post on Aaron Tveit soon!)

It's a uniformly pretty great young cast with a great Celia Keenan-Bolger leading the way. Though some have complained that she plays it too similarly to her The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee role, I never saw her in that so I didn't notice and felt that she was perfect in the role. Mary Faber seemed a bit too old for her character, nemesis Hilary Faye but her voice and acting makes it all work, and Juliana Ashley Hansen as Lana had a certain loveliness to her.

In addition to hotty Aaron Tveit, the cast rounds out other central characters with the adorable Curtis Holbrook as Roland, Hilary's wheelchair bound brother, and Van Hughes as Patrick, the pastor's rebel (for a Christian school at least) son. Curtis was so cute in Xanadu and will temporarily return in July to take over the lead (when Cheyenne Jackson goes to do Damn Yankees) and he may be a small little guy, but he's a bundle of energy and an amazing dancer with a wonderfully Californian-dude type of voice.

Van Hughes is another terrific newcomer and has a nice chemistry with Bolger.

Morgan Weed's Cassandra has a nice authentic sarcastic touch to the overly soft proceedings.

Sadly, Julia Murney feels underused and wasted here as Mary's conflicted mother, and John Dorset has a nice voice but probably plays the pastor/principal a bit too harshly without showing any warmth (fake or otherwise) that would lead us to believe him a loved leader in this Christian community.

So while the songs are mostly a disappointment and the book seems a bit too soft and choppy (though not as choppy as Wicked), Sergio Trujillo's choreography (CBC's Triple Sensation, Jersey Boys) totally (ahem) saves the show during any moment it's on display, usually in the ensemble songs. While they are pretty simplistic and almost cheesy as kids at a Christian community school would dance like, there is a freshness and uniqueness to his moves and I loved watching the talented young cast move to Trujillo's choreography.

Here's a Video Preview of Saved (though I believe it requires logging in from the free "membership") (UPDATE: Or below in youtube format now), and check out the dancing in "Make It True" with Van Hughes' Patrick singing his anthem (near the end of the clip). There's just something neat about it, or maybe I just like watching Tveit dance. Either or, I loved that moment. It's too bad Curtis Holbrook is in a wheelchair through most of the show because his dancing is also a feast for the eyes.

As it stands now, the musical has so much potential, but the show is really a 2 star musical aided by a 4 star cast, so I'm giving it an even 3 at this point. There's rumours that it will get extended Off-Broadway and there were rumblings about moving it to Broadway but it still needs a lot of help, and after the debacle of Glory Days, we know a pre-mature move could end up in tragedy. And to be honest, I liked Glory Days more than Saved, with better songs and more emotional connections with the characters, but again, let's hope they tweak it because Lord knows (oh, that's you, still listening God?), Saved could be great.

Altar Boyz - New World Stages - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - ***1/2 (3.5 Stars out of 5)

Saved The Musical - Playwrights Horizon Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - *** (3 Stars out of 5)

Here are a few more picture images from Saved the Musical:

The cast of Saved currently at the Playwrights Horizon (as of opening night June 3rd):
Celia Keenan-Bolger (Mary), John Dossett (Pastor Skip), Mary Faber (Hilary Faye), Juliana Ashley Hansen (Lana), Curtis Holbrook (Roland), Emily Walton (Tia), Aaron Tveit (Dean), Josh Breckenridge (Shane), Jason Michael Snow (Zac), Morgan Weed (Cassandra), Daniel Zaitchik (Jesus/Nurse/Mitch), Julia Murney (Lillian), Van Hughes (Patrick)

Here are the songs:

Act One

In the Light of God - Company
I'm Not That Kind of Girl - Mary, Hilary Faye, Lana
Orlando - Lillian
I Can't Help It (The Love Song) - Hilary Faye, The Christian Jewels
What's Wrong With Me? - Dean, Mary, Company
Make It True - Patrick, Company
Saved - Cassandra, Roland
What Am I Missing? - Pastor Skip, Lillian, Mary, Patrick
Prayers - Mary, Company

Act Two

Something Wrong - Company
Changing - Mary
Heaven - Hilary Faye, Company
The Pastor's Son - Patrick
I'm Not The Man I Thought I'd Be - Pastor Skip, Patrick, Roland, Dean
Prayers (reprise) - Cassandra
How To - Lillian, Mary
Prom - The Christian Jewels, Company
Corinthians - Company


Joe Reid said...

The first time I saw Xanadu, Curtis Holbrook was filling in for Cheyenne Jackson, and I thought he was totally adorable, so I'm glad to hear you enjoyed him in Saved! I actually never got to see him in his intended role (which was...uh...Hot Dude With the Legs, I guess), because by the time I saw it again, he'd left. Not that I'm in any way complaining about seeing Xanadu twice.

Joseph Gomez said...

I've yet to see the show, but it seems your sentiments are reflected in the opening night reviews. Bummer. I had high hopes.

Mari said...

A wonderful, underutilized cast is wasted in this show. What was a great indie film with an edge but overall positive message has been turned into a sanitized for your protection bubble gum pop musical.

They even removed the cussing and more controversial plot points from the film script. I assume this was in an attempt not to offend anyone. Doing that unfortunately left a pretty shell but no substance. Maybe another set of writers should take a stab at it, like the writers of Avenue Q or Spring Awakening.