In Part One of a Six Part Series of behind-the-scene interviews of First Stage’s upcoming production of the hit musical Altar Boyz, Director/Scenic and Costume Designer Steven Royal tells us how he was hired to direct Altar Boyz and introduces us to his design team, and ‘The Boyz.’
“I was very excited when Mark Krikstan, Artistic Director of 1st Stage, told me that they were thinking about doing Altar Boyz this season. Immediately I told him I wanted to do be involved in any capacity. I had never seen the show but I had always been a fan of the music and loved the idea of the show. Growing up in the MTV generation, the style of Altar Boyz was definitely something I was familiar with. Mark approached me later in the summer with a crazy idea. Knowing how enthusiastic I was about the show he asked me if I’d be interested in directing. (I had previously designed a number of sets at 1st Stage but never directed there). While I wanted to say “Yes!” immediately, I told him I wanted to come up with a concept first and if we both thought it was a good idea, We’d move forward. Having made most of my career on designing all kinds of environments, directing was something I had only some experience with but have always been interested in.
In researching the show, aided by heavily Youtube, I instantly knew I wanted to do a completely original Altar Boyz. The original New York production (which was recreated here in DC in 2008) was brilliantly choreographed and staged by Christopher Gattelli and Stafford Arima. Their production has been used as a template for many subsequent regional productions. I am an avid concert goer and huge pop music fan so, bringing a new light to Altar Boyz seemed natural. One of the first things I knew, is there had to be a video and projection element used in the show. With the inherent humor in boy band music videos and the huge amount of viral dance videos in the past couple of years, there was so much visual research to draw from. I also knew that the video would help us update the “Soul Sensor” a fictitious machine the Boyz use to gauge the number of souls left to save in the audience, too. Mark liked the idea, and we decided to move forward.
Helping me bring the production to life is Bobby McCoy (Music Director) and Jeremy McShan (Choreographer). They are both all-stars, bringing so many great, fresh ideas to the table. We’ve had a great time exploring and creating the show together. Completing the real-to-life concert experience is Lighting Designer, David Sexton, and Sound Designer Derek Knoderer. We’ve had to completely redesign both the sound and lighting systems at 1st Stage, a task both of these professionals were more than qualified to tackle. The look of the show is as authentic as a real concert gets. We’ll have lots of stairs, platforms, exposed lighting truss, and a really terrific light show. We’ll also have an amazing laser light element in the show. I’m really excited about this design!
We all knew from the start that, above all, we had to find five fantastic guys who were more than just triple threats. Yes, they all have to sing, dance and act but they also must look the part and have the stamina to be singing and sweating onstage for 90 mins without leaving. There is no lead, so every member of the group was very important to having a successful show. Well, we found them! We had many submissions, and many options, and in the end we have settled with a cast that will be mostly new to DC audiences. BJ Gruber (Matthew) Jonathan Walker (Juan) and Zach Powell (Abraham) will all make their DC acting debuts in Altar Boyz. Audiences will be familiar with Ted Nagel (Mark) and Derek Tatum (Luke) who have appeared in DC before. All of these guys are immensely talented and amazing performers. I am constantly amazed by their abilities.
Putting the show together has been a wonderful experience. Not only are these guys talented, they are all such kind individuals, too. Within a couple of rehearsals they were already acting like they had known each other for years. The camaraderie that they are already cultivating will only strengthen their performances. This was something we were worried about initially before casting, but these guys genuinely like each other. We are so blessed and lucky. Altar Boyz at first glance is seemingly simple, but the harmonies are very complex. Add that to the intense dancing they are required to do and the puzzle becomes a little harder to put together. Our guys are up to the challenge, though. They are also very sweaty.
We are having a fantastic time working on Altar Boyz and can’t wait to bring it to 1st Stage’s theatre in Tyson’s Corner. I’m really thrilled about working with so many talented artists. It’s going to be 90 mins packed full of tight harmonies and tight pants. Come see us starting November 23rd!”