One of the best new Off Broadway shows of recent years, “Altar Boyz” makes a transposition to Drury Lane Water Tower Place in a production that attempts to Chicagoize the show by the mere inclusion of the city’s name a couple of times, a Skokie t-shirt on the Jewish character and the voice of—yikes—long retired broadcaster Roy Leonard used as God (was Ken Nordine not available?). My first thought as the show opened was that these area actors were all too old to be credible as a musical singing group of teenagers (the genius of the national tour was in finding seasoned performers that really looked like kids) and the fivesome’s ability to harmonize and dance as a unit is, at best, under-rehearsed, making repeat lyrics such as “I got the rhythm in me” unintentionally ironic. That said, the guys are far more effective in their individual numbers, particularly Devin DeSantis’ ballads and Tyler McGee’s breakdancing. This musical tale of five childhood friends who form a sort of Catholic New Kids on the Block is 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 dance moves, but the work is never preachy and simply uses a Catholic ethos as a cultural bond between the group members that ultimately becomes a lesson in tolerance, understanding, family and community. 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)
At Drury Lane Theatre, Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut, (312)642-2000. This production is now closed.