BWW Reviews: High Energy and Spirituality Fuel the Passion in ALTAR BOYZ at the Chromolume Theatre
Chromolume Theatre is presenting ALTAR BOYZ with book by Kevin Del Aguila and music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, directed by Kristin Towers-Rowles with choreography by Samantha Whidby and music direction by Richard Berent, in a strictly limited engagement through May 11 only. And how can this team present such a high-energy musical so effectively in such a small space? Brilliantly of course!
The 9th longest-running off-Broadway musical of all time, ALTAR BOYZ is a foot-stomping, rafter-raising musical comedy satire about a fictitious Christian boy-band on the last night of their national "Raise the Praise" tour during which they attempt to reduce the number of burdened souls in the theatre to zero by the end of the concert.
Director Kristin Towers-Rowles has assembled the perfect, ultra high-energy cast to bring the Boyz to life onstage, each with their own impressive and very personal characterization. The five all-singing, all-dancing heartthrobs from Ohio are (from left) hot to trot Latino Juan (Joey Acuna), out and proud Mark (Michael Marchak), the group's leader Matthew (Craig McEldowney), street thug Luke (Jason Chacon), and yarmulke-wearing Abraham (Tyler Vess). All are to be commended for their tight harmonies, spectacular choreography, and unending energy.
After many high energy group numbers, the Soul Sensor counts down the number of souls yet to be unburdened, starting with the magic number 69. The help accomplish their goal, after many high energy group work-outs, each of the Boyz is featured in a solo number expressing their own personal story of how they came to be part of the group and now serve the Lord. In the process, each unburdens his own soul thus allowing the group to go their own ways with a clear conscience at the end of their final performance.
First we hear from Abraham who seems the most out of place yet also the most grounded. In "Everybody Fits," Tyler Vess proudly wears his Jewish star emblazoned Superman t-shirt and regales the audience with his tale of finding his salvation is the most unexpected of places. Surely his next place to land will be as the leader of a Jews for Jesus group! Vess takes the role seriously and never makes fun of either religion, giving each a place in his life. If only the rest of the world had his understanding and tolerance, this would be a much better place to live.
During Confessions Sessions, Craig McEldowney's Matthew slows the action down by playing guitar while sitting on a stool center stage. Cleverly selecting a willing female audience member to be part of the song "Something About You," Matthew explains his need to abstain while his every movement plays a seduction game with her. The rest of the Boyz sit and accompany him on bongos, a triangle, zither, and a single maraca, all the while nodding their acceptance of the need to abstain and behave responsibly. All but Latino lover Juan of course, who keeps signaling to women in the audience that he will call them later!
Jason Chacon's street-smart Luke comically displays outrageously funny rap dancing during "Body, Mind & Soul" and given the workout he has undergone up to this point in the show, his ongoing gyrations must have truly come from divine inspiration. The unburdened souls are now down to the magic number 33.
The most emotionally touching moment of the show occurs during "La Vida Eternal," during which Juan (Joey Acuna) has one of his prayers answered by the other Boyz when they present him with a letter containing information about his long-lost parents. The new is upsetting, and Acuna takes us with him as he spirals down into soul-baring crying fits. Acuna gleefully uses the entire theater to deliver his tale of woe, wrapping the audience around his every word. When the Soul Sensor goes back up to 69, Juan immediately snaps out of his mood and gleefully exclaims that Faith with be rewarded, and the number goes down to just 10 souls left to save.
But it is Michael Marchak's out and proud Mark who steals the show whenever he is featured. His graceful movements are a pleasure to behold, and his unfettered pride in who he is will grab you and never let you forget he is a strong man who knows what he wants. You will cheer for him during his "Epiphany" when he readily admits he is a Catholic, and who he is is not a choice he made - it is just who he is. And he is ready to take his message out of the church and into the streets. A soul unburdened indeed.
Truly these are the ALTAR BOYZ, and they will alter your mind to the possibility that a big Broadway musical can be fully produced on a small stage with nothing lost in the translation thanks to Tower-Rowles and Whidby for their mutual vision and magic touch in making you forget how small a room you really are in during the show. And above all, kudos to the band (Richard Berent, Joe Lawrence, John Harvey, George "Drew" De Rieux) who keeps the action moving and your toes tapping!
ALTAR BOYZ performances continue on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through May 11. Tickets are $28, with discounts for students and seniors ($25) and children 12 and under ($23), and may be purchased online at www.crtheatre.com, or via telephone at 323-205-1617. Chromolume Theatre at the Attic is located at 5429 W. Washington Boulevard (between the 10 freeway and Hauser Boulevard), in Los Angeles, 90016. Ample street parking is available.
For more information, visit www.crtheatre.com or call 323-510-2688.
Photos by James Esposito