At 12 years old I was a budding young singer, son of a deacon and dedicated altar server—and hot for Father Ron Verhaeghe. Blond and blue-eyed, sweet and soft-voiced, Father Ron broke lots of hearts at my Missouri suburban Catholic church: little old ladies, closeted gay dads, and—yep—some of the other altar boys' little hearts, too.

Father Ron's tough-but-sweet sex appeal made him something of an untouchable bad boy in our parish, and for years I felt alone in this uncomfortable-sounding mix of queer desire, rockstar adulation and Catholic guilt. That is, until I heard the soundtrack to the new musical Altar Boyz.

In the two short years since its off-Broadway premiere, Altar Boyz has become a bona fide cult hit, a camp musical sensation picking up acclaim, awards and more than its share of suspiciously obsessed fans as it continues its off-Broadway run and tours coast to coast. The show touches down here at the Newmark for a six-day run starting Tuesday.

"Become an Altar-holic!" shouts, which also features a rotating cast of "Featured Altar-holics" and a creepy "audience confession of the week," the majority of which are by hopelessly lonely gay men ("I just spent all my money on Altar Boyz merchandise," admits "Jon," in a typical message-board posting).

So what's all the hype about, anyway? Altar Boyz presents five studs as a Jesus-praising boy band, intent on saving their fans' souls through the power of Christian super-pop. A typical lyric: "Jesus called me on my cellphone/ No roaming charges were incurred/ He told me that I should go out in the world/ And spread his glorious word." And it gets better.

The biblically named hotties each fill a classic boy-band role: Matthew (the hunky lead), Luke (the toughie), Abraham (the Jewish one), Juan (token Latino) and Mark (the queer one). Mark lusts after unattainable Matthew but then surprises everyone with his 11th-hour "coming out" song—where he admits his closeted, Catholic tendencies.

After the onslaught of religious rock musicals like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, or charming but beside-the-point religi-revuesicals like Nunsense, is over-the-top Altar Boyz poised to be the next big musical-comedy hit for gay men, women and those who share our tastes?

I don't know, but I wonder what Father Ron is doing next Friday night.


Broadway Across America/Portland Opera presents Altar Boyz, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 241-1802. 7:30 pm Tuesday-Saturday; 2 pm Saturday; 1 pm and 6:30 pm Sunday, Jan. 30-Feb. 4. $41-$51.