During a month that traditionally sees dozens of holiday themed productions open, Rogers Park’s Theo Ubique Cabaret Theater is going a different direction and the audience is all the better for it. Ribbing both boy-bands and Christian Rock, while poking a little fun at Catholicism, Altar Boyz is being mounted to ring out the year. Directed by Courtney Crouse, this comedy tips it backward baseball cap to the monolithic success of the 1980’s and 1990’s boy bands, including *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees and the New Kids on the Block. The intimate staging focuses all eyes on this quintet of talent. Adding the intricately energetic and powerful choreography from Jeff Award-winner Sawyer Smith, Altar Boyz proves an amusing, rib-tickling, satisfying night out at the theater.
The story follows a fictitious boy-band on the final night of their sold-out “Raise the Praise 2017” stadium tour. The concept was based on an idea by Marc J. Kessler and Ken Davenport, with a book by Kevin Del Aguila and music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. Originally running for over five years off-Broadway, the scale here is definitively smaller, but the charm and appeal remains firmly intact. With musical direction by perennial Theo Ubique favorite and Jeff Award-winner Jeremy Ramey, Altar Boyz will make you stand up and say Amen!
All the archetypes are here to play, each character named after a member of the Apostles to boot. First up, lead singer Matthew (Max DeTogne) who is all Justin Timberlake swagger, with height, ingenuity and leading man good looks on his side. Mark (Frankie Leo Bennett) is the sweet, pint-sized, closeted member of the group with pipes that impress. Think Lance Bass or New Kid’s Jonathan Knight, but with the boy next door good looks of Brian Littrell. Luke (Colin Schreier) is the dimwitted muscle man, much like Nick and Drew Lachey of 98 Degrees or New Kid on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg, with a bit of a drug problem, make that “exhaustion issues” like New Kid’s AJ McLean. His special skill that he brings to the group, he drives the van. Juan (Marco Tzunux) is all south of the border sex appeal in spades with an impressive dance skill set. Do remember, before hitting international solo success with “Living La Vida Loca”, Ricky Martin was a member of the 1980’s ever rotating all-boy Latin super group, Menudo. The final member, Abraham (Steven Romero Schaeffer) jokingly referred to as the “Jewish” one, has the requisite good looks to lead, but is regulated to role of songwriter and wing-man, just like *NSYNC’s Joey Fatone, Backstreet’s Kevin Richardson, New Kid’s Joey McIntyre or 98 Degree’s Jeff Timmons.
The main goal of the group is to raise the spirits of their audience through song, measured with the Soul Sensor Digital Display devise. I couldn’t help but laugh during the individual breakdowns of the genesis of the group, told through tongue-in-cheek biblical chapters, according to Matthew, according to Luke and so on. When Bennett sang about “Jesus snapped me on my Snapchat” I about fell off of my chair. One lucky lady is selected nightly from the audience and serenaded by DeTogne during the song “Something About You….. Makes Me Want To Wait”. The remaining soundtrack “We Are The Altar Boyz”, “Rhythm In Me”, “Everybody Fits”, “La Vida Eternal” and “I Believe” could easily be worked into anther Tony Award-winning show poking fun at religion, a little show titled The Book of Mormon.
The real drama of the piece has an ending with each member questioning their faith in each another as they are pulled apart by the seven deadly sins of the recording industry; including pride, envy, lust and greed. Each are tempted by a slew of solo recording deals from competitive record companies, and I will certainly not spoil the ending other than saying the boyz reunite, adorned in all white, nifty costume design by Kate Setzer Kamphausen, for one last remix of their title track. More silly than saintly, you will have a ball. Guaranteed laughs, wildly talented triple threat performers, and an up close vantage point make Altar Boyz a sure fire hit. Simply put, it would be a sin to miss.
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s No Exit Cafe production of Altar Boyz is now playing through January 14, 2018