Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Altar Boyz
Drury Lane Water Tower Place

Also see John's review of Zanna, Don't!

(L-R) Tyler McGee, Adam Zelasko, Devin DeSantis, Brian Crum, and Nick Verina
When this satire of boy bands, Christian pop music, and the uneasy mix of faith and commercialism in America opened its national tour last fall at Chicago's LaSalle Bank Theatre, it provided ammunition for the argument that the theater business needs to find some new models for presenting shows of a smaller scale in touring and regional productions. Do shows like Avenue Q, tick, tick ... BOOM! and Altar Boyz belong in one of the 2,000-seat renovated movie palaces or vaudeville houses that host all the national tours these days? Forgive the easy analogy, but, as the Bible says, "ask and ye shall receive," for Chicago has received its own sit-down production of Altar Boyz in the very comfortable and intimate 450-seat Drury Lane Water Tower Place Theatre. In a further deviation from prevailing road and regional practices, it's being presented by a new team of New York producers (Joe McGinnis and Bart Kahn) rather than the impresarios of the original production still running Off-Broadway in New York. Regardless, the production has an imprimatur of authenticity thanks to its being directed by Stafford Arima and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, both of whom had the same responsibilities for the New York and touring productions.

Arima and Gattelli, with the help of casting director John Shea, have given us a top-flight cast that I enjoyed more than the tour company and about as well as the original Off-Broadway boyz. As a team, they execute Gattelli's dances with precision and they blend their vocals into smooth harmonies. Individually, they knock their solos right out of the park. Devin DeSantis makes a smooth front-man Matthew, who can charm the audience and his bandmates as easily as he woos a girl selected from the audience with the ballad of patience and chastity, "Something About You" (with the refrain, "girl, you make me want to wait"). Brian Crum makes a sweet Mark and, while he takes gay stereotypical mannerisms a little farther than I would like, he's close to the genuineness that made Tyler Maynard so winning in the role Off-Broadway. His "Epiphany" brings down the house in true Diva style. Tyler McGee gives the white homeboy Luke some legitimate street cred and displays amazing acrobatic skill along with his Christian hip-hop vocals. Adam Zelasko gives a goofy likeability to Juan, and though he works the Spanish accent a bit too hard at first, he settles down as the show progressed. As the band's only Jew, Abraham, Nick Verina gives a nicely dry performance, as when he observes that the boys' church must allow Jews, "because they have one hanging over that cross."

Further, the creative team has freshened up the piece with new costumes by Paraskeve Pavlos (the boyz are in black now), a slightly revamped set by David Korins, and dramatic new lighting —especially effective in the climactic number banishing the Devil —by Ben Stanton. The writing team has added a few touches specifically for the Chicago crowd, like working "My Kind of Town" into a descant, and giving Juan a reference to the "Windy Ciudad." Longtime local radio announcer Roy Leonard of WGN has taken over the offstage role of the Voice of G.O.D.

Even on a third viewing, the good-natured satire of Kevin Del Aguila's book and the songs of Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker have a way of lifting spirits. Even as we groan at the awkward marriages of private faith and public statements, of Christian charity and crass commercialism, we're caught up in the best intentions of the boyz and lifted by their sheer energy and spirit. As with the followers of any band, fans of these Altar Boyz will choose their own favorites from the cast. They'll have some terrific performers from which to pick.

Altar Boyz, running through November 25, 2007, will be performed Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 5 p.m. Tickets are sold through the Drury Lane Water Tower Place Box Office at 175 E. Chestnut St., by calling 312-642-2000, or online at A limited number of student rush tickets, priced at $25, will be available two hours prior to each performance at the Drury Lane Box Office only.

Photo: Michael Brosilow

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area

-- John Olson

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