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'Altar Boyz'

The Altar Boyz is a (fictitious) Catholic boy band on a mission to save souls with pop songs. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham.

Matthew is the leader of the group. Mark is the sensitive one. Luke is the street-wise boy who has a little trouble staying on the Path. Juan is the Latin boy in search of his long-lost parents. And Abraham is Jewish. What he's doing in a Catholic boy band, God only knows.

The singers are fierce in their spiritual mission and, though there is much humor resulting from their naïve fervor, they are utterly sincere and their message is all about the power of love, acceptance and true spiritual values.

Part play and part rock concert, "Altar Boyz" will open at 8 p.m. Friday, March 14, at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, First and Hargadine streets, Ashland. "Altar Boyz" has been an off-Broadway hit since 2005 and won the 2005 Outer Circle Critics Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. It was written by Kevin Del Aguila (co-conceived by Marc Kessler) with music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and is still playing Off-Broadway.

"It's kind of 'Forever Plaid' 30 years later," said Oregon Cabaret Theatre Artistic Director Jim Giancarlo, who directed and choreographed the show. "There are similar relationships. They accept one another and express incredibly beautiful messages like, 'Everybody fits in God's great family.' They are buddies who like to sing and believe they were brought together for a reason."

For the Altar Boyz, that reason is "to spread His glorious Word." Giancarlo said the show "is a lot like 'Nunsense' in that it has a religious theme, but it's very funny. The play does not make fun of religion but shows the incongruity of the singers and their message."

Musical direction is by guest Musical Director Chris Kong. "The songs try to hit every musical genre," Kong said. "It's the epitome if every aspect of that boy-band culture," recalling '90s groups like N-Sync and Backstreet Boys. "What makes it work is that it is so genuine and there is an honesty that makes it appealing as a story and a show," Kong said.

There are up-tempo numbers, pop ballads and lots of harmonies in a score that was written for more than just the usual piano, guitar and drums configuration.

Set design is by Craig Hudson, costume design is by Kerri Lea Robbins, lighting design by Benjamin Brown and sound design by Tim Brown. Michael Lavin is OCT's new stage manager.

The cast members are all making their Cabaret debuts. Matthew is played by Philadelphia actor Damian Shembel, whose credits include shows at the Walnut Street Theatre and Bucks County Playhouse. Appearing as Mark (and assistant choreographer) is Jonathan Hoover and as Luke is Dolan Wolfe-Callanta. Both are graduates of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, Calif. Juan is played by Daniel Plancarte, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy with credits in regional theatre and national tours. In the role of Abraham is Josh Blye, a New York City actor who has performed in shows such as "A Chorus Line," "My Fair Lady" and "Damn Yankees."

Musicians for the show are Chris Kong and Meagan Iverson on keyboards, Matt Gwinup on guitar, and Jim Malachi on drums — the only returning OCT musician.

"Altar Boyz" runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays with 1 p.m. brunch matinees Sundays through June 1. Tickets are $19-$31. Student rush tickets ($10) are sold one-half hour before curtain. Gourmet dinner and brunch are available with advance reservations. Appetizers, desserts and beverages are also available without reservations. See www.oregoncabaret.com or call 488-2902.

Daniel Plancarte, Jonathan Hoover, Josh Blye, Dolan Wolfe-Callanta and Damian Shembel (pictured clockwise from upper left) appear in the cast of 'Altar Boyz,' the award-winning musical that opens this weekend at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. - Photo by Judith Pavlik