Pure, unadulterated mischief of the very best kind.
That’s all you really need to know about “Altar Boyz,” the rollicking, five-man musical satire that flips the Judeo-Christian tradition on its head at the very same moment it attempts to save the troubled souls in Chicago’s Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre audience from eternal hellfire.
Fear not, for while these naughty guys (who tell us this is the season’s final concert of the band’s “Raise the Praise” national tour) are fully acquainted with the Sunday mass drill of “stand up, sit down . . . genuflect . . . and go in peace,” they also are fabulously subversive in their way, as well as fully lovable.
When: Through Jan. 14, 2018
Where: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 6970 N. Glenwood
Tickets: $34-$39; optional dinner $25, reservations required
Run time: 95 minutes, no intermission
What’s more, with their sensational, hard-rocking, break-dancing, salsa-swiveling moves and rousing harmonies — along with some exceedingly witty banter about evolution, a hilarious riff on saving sex for marriage, a devilishly clever obfuscation involving homosexuality and communication with a “higher power” that riffs on Facebook, Snapchat and more — they will easily raise your spirit. In the bargain, they also finesse a full conversion to their show biz exuberance with a perfect mix of the politically correct and incorrect.
With a high-energy pastiche score by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker (infused with exceptionally clever lyrics) and a book by Kevin Del Aguila (based on an idea by Marc J. Kessler and Ken Davenport), it should come as no surprise that the award-winning “Altar Boyz” racked up more than 2,000 performances during its Off Broadway run from 2005 to 2010. The playful yet pungent parody seems more timely than ever.
Four members of the show’s fictitious band bear aptly Gospel-inspired names: the leader Matthew (Max DeTogne, memorable as Clyde Barrow in Kokandy’s recent production of “Bonnie and Clyde), Mark (the boyish-looking Frankie Leo Bennett, a terrific dancer), Luke (Colin Schreier, who makes “exhaustion” a winningly comic alibi for everything) and Juan (Marco Tzunux, another sensational dancer), who embarks on a tragicomic search for the parents he never knew.
There’s also one member of “the tribe” on hand — the yarmulke-wearing Abraham (Steven Romero Schaeffer). And though this “Neil Diamond in the rough” never quite explains how he came to the group, he says he is engaged in a test of faith.
Before the show is over — and the band knocks out such songs as “Rhythm in Me,” “Something About You,” “Body, Mind & Soul,” “La Vida Eternal” and “Number 918” — all the “boyz” will undergo a test of loyalty to each other, even if there can be no doubt that as a real life ensemble they are a custom-made blend.
Courtney Crouse’s pitch-perfect direction and Sawyer Smith’s volcanic choreography are ideally interwoven. As always, music director Jeremy Ramey (and his musicians Perry Cowdery and Carlos Mendoza), sound heaven-sent.
This happens to be a stellar moment for small-scale, big-impact musical theater in Chicago, with recent productions such as “Violet” (Griffin Theatre), “Lizzie” (Firebrand Theatre), “Billy Elliot” (Porchlight Music Theatre), “Marie Christine” (BoHo Theatre) and now “Altar Boyz.” Bless them all.