Chicago Theater Review: ALTAR BOYZ (Theo Ubique)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 5, 2017

in Theater-Chicago


Praise the Lord and pass the parody! Infernally ingratiating and devilishly disarming, Altar Boyz is also sweetly sardonic and packed with pep. This successful 2005 revue — music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and book by Kevin Del Aguila — both spoofs and celebrates a Christian boy-band on the final night of their SONY-sponsored “Raise the Praise” national tour. At first I thought it was “Race to Grace” — and that would work too. In any case “God is in the house!”

The Chicago “house” for Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s deliciously double-edged revival (in every sense of the word) is Rogers Park’s No Exit Café. Exalted and uplifted by director Courtney Crouse, this tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre-d, and cunningly campy Altar Boyz (its ambiguous title plays with possibilities) should equally please true-believers and cynical sophisticates. Diabolically disingenuous, it’s the classic theatrical case of having your cake and eating it too.

With their funky feet, stained-glass smiles, and squeaky-clean charisma, these five credo-crazed lads from Ohio — Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan (for obvious reasons) and Abraham (because he once was Jewish) — feel the Lord’s “Rhythm in Me” with testosterone-testifying fervor. A contraption called the Soul Sensor DX-12 counts down the number of sinners saved by the Boyz’ force field of faith. The final goal of the spiritual count-down, of course, is zero (God forbid, however, that it should get stuck at 4).

Graduates of the Sleep Away Bible Camp, the fabulous five know how to literally “get the hell out” by dancing the Devil away. Righteously rampaging to Sawyer Smith’s holy-rolling choreography, the heartthrobs praise Jesus’s good deeds (“The Miracle Song”), extol their musical ministry (“The Calling”), and indulge in a “confession session” with a selected transgressor.

We get five different and self-serving “origin stories” of the “immaculate birth” of “A.B.” But the group sternly deny that their ensemble has ever “evolved.” Though their unity is tested (especially in a near breakup), they know that “there is no star as bright as its constellation, no harmony in a single voice.”

Yet, yeah verily, there are creative differences among the devout: Apostate Abraham (Steven Romero Schaeffer) wishfully croons out how “Everybody Fits”; Shy Matthew (Max DeTogne) serenades a presumably virginal audience member with the abstinence anthem, “Something About You (Makes Me Want to Wait)”; Suffering from exhaustion, Luke (Colin Schreier) has undergone treatment at the New Horizons Regeneration Center where he learned how to meld “Body, Mind & Soul”; Pretty-boy Mark (Frankie Leo Bennett) painfully and tearfully “comes out,” but his “closet” is Catholicism and his cross to bear the hate crimes committed by Episcopalian bullies; and orphan-boy Juan (Marc Tzunux) celebrates his birthday with salsa-stirring conviction (“La Vida Eternal”).

But it’s the solidarity that sells this show: The blessed boys are not above resorting to an exorcism (“I Believe”) to subdue Satan. Only invoked to heal desperately damned audiences, their hymn of last resort, “Number 918” (on page 666), never fails to raise the roof to heavenly heights.

The beauty part of Altar Boyz is its infuriating immunity from accusations of hypocrisy. Panning it would be like kicking a puppy: Any secular skepticism founders on the quintet’s unflappable trust in a higher power — the script. Here the Rock of Ages is light metal and Christian pop.

Ably coached by music director Jeremy Ramey, the Boyz dig laughter out of loyalty. If there’s a doctrine at stake in these 90 minutes, it’s the Actors, not the Apostles Creed: Sing and dance unto others as you would have them sing and dance unto you. There are worse words to live by.

photos by Cody Jolly

Altar Boyz
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
Thurs at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 7 (check for holiday altar-ations)
ends on January 14, 2018
for tickets, call 800.595.4849 or visit Theo Ubique

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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