Story by Rita Boland
“The old God is making a comeback,” at least off-Broadway in Chicago.
The award-winning musical Altar Boyz reopened Oct. 7 at the 533-seat Drury Lane Water Tower Theatre, 175 E Chestnut St. The show, which debuted in New York in 2004, returned to Chicago after a year hiatus in much smaller venue than the previous site, the 1,950-seat LaSalle Bank Theatre.
Set up like a concert, the 90-minute show takes the audience through the trials and tribulations of religious identification seen through the eyes of a Christian boy band. Spoofing performers from N’Sync to Michael Jackson, the audience is immediately drawn in with the humorous lyrics (“Jesus called me on my cell phone, no roaming charges occurred”) satirizing Catholicism and the syncopated dance moves reminiscent of ‘90s music videos.
“It’s short, there is no intermission, it’s quick and fun. For the 90 minutes we are up there it is song after song with fun dance moves,” said Devin DeSantis, Northwestern University alum who plays Altar Boyz leader Matthew. “I think everybody loves those 90’s boy bands.”
In the lobby, “fans” are encouraged to “lighten their painful and humiliating burden immediately” by filling out an Altar Boyz confession card that may be read during the show to potentially “absolve” the sinner of their burdens. The card warns that confessions are not taken to an actual priest and privacy is absolutely not guaranteed. It adds “absolution results may vary and reconciliation with God may not be for everyone,” and has common side effects that include “inner peace and moral values.”
The show draws on the humors of religious practice and product placement in pop culture. The members, named after biblical figures Matthew, Mark, Luke, Abraham (and Juan) each embody the stereotypical boy band member, and each has a personal struggle to overcome.
Matthew is the glue that holds the group together, and the breakout star. Mark, the “femme” member, struggles with his sexuality, his attraction to Matthew and his place in the anti-gay Catholic Church, similar to recently outted N’Syncer Lance Bass. Juan, an orphan from Tijuana, embodies Ricky Martin with his pelvic thrusting dance moves and thick Latin accent. Luke is the “gansgta wanna be” boy, who reminisces about his “exhaustion” (drunkenness) and his recent stay in “bible camp,” (rehab) like many pop stars recently. Abe, the outsider, is Jewish and struggling to find his place in the band.
“I don’t think it [crosses the line]. This show is very honest, that is one thing the [director] wanted to drive home with us,” said DeSantis. “I think it is a very heartfelt and honest piece of work that just happens to have those almost gay and Catholic jokes.”
In Matthew’s number, “Girl, You Make Me Wanna Wait,” he brings and audience member onstage and sings to her about the challenge of waiting for marriage to have sex (“…you make my Levis feel tight”). The girl is able to log onto the Altar Boyz Web site after the show to see a picture of herself onstage.
Catholic grade school teacher at St. Mary’s in Buffalo Grove Barbara Haravan was delighted after the show. She was relieved because she thought “Altar Boyz” was about recent scandals in the Catholic Church. “I thought it was an inspiration and a fresh and changing view on a damaged [church],” she said.
Under the direction of Stafford Arima and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli (both from the original New York production), the show adds local flavor by casting famed WGN radio announcer Roy Leonard as the “voice of G.O.D.,” the boyz guidance and voice of reason throughout the show.
The show, which was voted “Fan Favorite- Longest Running Off-Broadway Show” in the Broadway.com awards, was originally slated to run through Nov. 25. However, due to “overwhelming demand” the show will continue through March 2, said Samara Harand, Altar Boyz publicist.
“It’s all about brotherhood and the struggles these boyz go through in trying to make the world a better place through song and dance,” said DeSantis.
The show will run through Jan. 6, 2008. Student “rush” tickets are available at the Drury Lane Box Office two hours before the show with school ID for $25. Other tickets range from $45 – $55 and can be purchased at AltarBoyzChicago.com or by calling the box office (312)642-2000.
Art & Entertainment In the Loop Public
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