Here is Part 5 of our series of behind the scenes interviews with the director and cast of 1st Stage’s Altar Boyz. Now, meet BJ Gruber.
BJ: My name is BJ Gruber and I’ve been acting professionally for 6 years. I will graduate from JMU this December with a Degree in Theatre & Dance, concentration: Musical Theatre. I started acting in high school with Les Mis (Bishop). I’ve worked at The Lost Colony and done several shows with them including: The Lost Colony (dancer), Charlotte’s Web (Gander), Oklahoma! (Dancer). I spent the summer of 2011 at Point Sebago Resort. We did 7 different shows 9 times a week. The book shows we did were All Shook Up (Chad) and Honk! (Drake). In 2012 I performed 5 shows with Theatre By The Sea (a LORT house in Rhode Island) including 9 to 5 (Dwayne), Forever Plaid (Frankie u.s.), The Sound of Music (Ensemble/Rolf u.s.).
Joel: Where did you get your theatre/vocal training?
Richmond Virginia with private teachers and James Madison University as a Musical Theatre major. I’ve also done community shows around Harrisonburg and Richmond,VA including City of Angels (Jimmy Powers), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Barfee), RENT (Benny), and Pippin (Dance Captain) that I would consider part of my training.
Why did you want to appear in 1st Stage’s production of Altar Boyz?
Have you seen the show before and have you appeared in Altar Boyz before?
I have watched countless clips of it on youtube.
Introduce us to your role and how you relate to the person you are playing?
Matthew is the All-American leader. He’s also the hardest to stick into a box. The other guys get Latin-lover, gangster etc. to work with. Matthew is the most normal kind of guy. He’s the first one to leave the group and the last one to come back. One thing is certain, Matthew definitely loves these other guys. Matthew’s is “the leader” but the show has 5 leads. His job is to make sure everybody gets their moment. I respect that about him. He has a good heart and gets momentarily misled, but he comes back. The lyrics in the final song say “yesterday I wasn’t half as strong.” Matthew grows from his mistakes and the group becomes stronger than ever.
What is Altar Boyz about from Matthew’s point of view?
These are his boys. He loves these guys. They’re his family.
Have any of you worked together before?
I have not worked with these guys before, but after a week of rehearsal they already felt like my brothers.
How did you prepare for your role?
Watched youtube clips of NKOTBSB and II Together. I spent sometime listening to those classics bands from the 90’s and early 2000’s: Backstreet Boys, N’SYNC, New Kids On The Block…
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and rehearsing?
Finding Matthew’s arc has been the biggest challenge for me. Me and Steven are working out the kinks together. The music and choreography are a blast. I could work on it all day. The notes are hard, but the bigger challenge for the show is finding the right blend with all five guys.
What is the most vocally challenging song for you in the show?
The final number, “I Believe.” Adler and Walker didn’t give Matthew words or notes for the last two pages of the show. They simply wrote in “Matthew riffs.” It’s been a lot of fun finding different things that work for the section. I’m excited to see what we end up with!
Why do you think Altar Boyz is so popular all around the world?
Everybody loved boy bands. The show is intelligent, entertaining and has an incredible amount of heart. It brings up religion in a fun, sometimes joking, but gently way. It’s a show you can put on with 5 guys, so its easy to do in small houses. The script lends itself to an almost, ecstatic energy at times. There is no fourth wall. The audience is a sixth cast mate. I think the audience likes to feel involved. They want to be part of the fun.
Why should DC theatregoers come and see you in Altar Boyz?
‘The’re the Altar Boyz’: Part One: Steven Royal on Directing Altar Boyz at 1st Stage.
‘They’re the Altar Boyz’ Part Two: Meet Zack Powell.
‘They’re the Altar Boyz’ Part Three: Meet Edward Nagel.
‘They’re the Altar Boyz’ Part Four: Derek Tatum.