If the male creators of “Altar Boyz” are not non-practicing Catholic Jewish homosexuals, then they ought to be, so well do they understand and lovingly parody all three of these worlds. This musical tale of five childhood friends who form a song-and-dance group that is a sort of Catholic New Kids on the Block and includes a jock, a druggie, a gay guy, a Latino and a Jew (“Are Jews allowed in Church?” “I hope so, there’s one hanging on the cross over the altar.”) that are a refreshingly three-dimensional take on typically two-dimensional characters. Yes, they are religious and hope to naïvely “save souls” with their youthful enthusiasm, jingle-like music and expressive dance moves, but this winner of the coveted Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Off Broadway is not at all preachy but simply uses a Catholic ethos as a cultural bond between the group members that ultimately becomes a lesson in tolerance, understanding, family and community. In the hands of lesser performers, this material could become too tongue-in-cheek, but the five leads who are beginning a national tour here form an ensemble that allows the characters to shine as individuals yet still form a convincing group chemistry. Streamlined with comedy, pathos and a cleverly crafted hook-filled high-energy score at ninety minutes with no intermission, “Altar Boyz” goes by in a flash but leaves you with much to think about underneath its entertaining veneer. (Dennis Polkow)
“Altar Boyz” plays at LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 West Monroe, (312)902-1400, through Oct 29.