FST opens season with 'Altar Boyz'

Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham are on an entertaining mission to save souls.

Their plan is to sing and dance people to salvation in the Florida Studio Theatre's season opener "Altar Boyz," playing through Dec. 1.

"It's a totally unexpected type of play with a boy band singing Christian pop songs," said FST's artistic director Richard Hopkins, who is also directing this musical. "On the surface, it's innocent, guileless and simple but it has a whole lot of intellect."

The award-winning 2004 musical, by Kevin Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, is a spoof on American pop culture, the popular boy bands of the late 1990s and early 2000s and the successful contemporary Christian music scene.

Presented in a concert setting, the musical takes place during the last night of the Altar Boyz's "Raise the Praise" national tour. Sharing the stage is a special machine called the "Soul Sensor DX-12," which reports the number of burdened souls in its mist. The band wants to uplift every soul in the room, but, in a suprising twist, have trouble reaching the last few.

As the concert progresses, the band sheds light on their background. Matthew (Casey Gensler) is the founder, lyricist and "rock" of the group. Mark (Andrew Grosshandler), is the overly-excited youngest member. Luke (John Ashley Brown) is the not-so-smart tough guy while Juan (JP Moraga) is the Ricky Martin/Julio Iglesias of the group.

Then there's Abraham (James Larosa), who's Jewish.

"He's completely intrigued by Catholicism," Larosa said. "He wants to know about Holy Water and Jesus."

The Altar Boyz perform in a style similar to that of the popular chart-topping group of N ’Sync, performing songs such as "Church Rulez" and "Everybody Fits."

But the show is not just about singing, dancing and saving souls, the cast said.

"It falls upon a message of acceptance," said Grosshandler of being hospitable of people of all different backgrounds and faith.

"It's very sincere and honest," Moraga said of the show.

And by the end, it may resonate strongly with the audience's souls. "You feel saved but in a different way," Hopkins said.

What: "Altar Boyz"

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 1

Where: Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota

Tickets: $19-$32

Information: 366-9000 or www.floridastudio theatre.com