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THEATER REVIEW Altar Boyz
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-01-02

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Playwright: music by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, book by Kevin Del Aguila

At: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: $34-$39. Runs through: Jan. 14

It's said that God—or gods, for you polytheists—moves in mysterious ways, but since history records the sacred and profane often meeting in mutual accord, the phenomenon of Christian rock is no more mysterious than the revivalist wave of the 1970s following Andrew Lloyd Webber's pop-oratorio passion play. Indeed, the propensity of teenagers for embracing religious fervor as an escape from hormonal confusion can be observed in cultures throughout the world.

Therein resides the conceit lending Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker's musical its connection with audiences in 2017 who may have forgotten, or remained oblivious, to fads of decades past.

The Altar Boyz ( the spelling of the name being our first clue to chronological origins ) are a quintet of young male vocalists occupying the genre dubbed "Boy Bands," their pristine image intensified by a repertoire of soft-rock ditties featuring quasi-ecclesiastical lyrics. Being young and male, though, their concerns cannot help but mirror those of their secular kin, with the language of the gospels offering the sole acceptable means of expressing their anguish—restrictions leading to such anomalies as a coming-out song substituting the word "Catholic" for "gay," or a smitten swain proclaiming his attraction to a girl by confessing to conflicted thoughts regarding his pledge of pre-marital chastity. More serious issues are suggested by an orphan's quest for his birth parents and a last-ditch exorcism.

Walker, Adler and Aguila are content to leave the double entendres to our ribald sensibilities, however. Playgoers less inclined toward Book of Mormon-styled pottymouth are free to enjoy the exuberant goodwill invoked by the five warblers assembled under the leadership of directors Courtney Crouse, Jeremy Ramey and Sawyer Smith as they effortlessly conceal the complexity of bell-tone harmonies and precision-drill choreography beneath a veneer of youthful vulnerability.

The electronic device on the stage purporting to measure the number of saved souls in the room might have been funnier at the show's premiere in 2005 ( when covert surveillance was the stuff of fantasy ) but, by the end of the evening, when the roll is called up yonder, we are ready to be counted among those who make such joyful noise.


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