Monday, January 17, 2011

Boyz in the band

(The cast of "Altar Boyz" at the Hanna Theatre. Photo courtesy of PlayhouseSquare.)
Beck Center is to be commended for so well preserving the small pleasures that abounded two years ago in their rendering of "Altar Boyz." We'd even go so far as to hosanna the Lakewood institution for scaling the evolutionary ladder in the artful way they've replanted the show in the cozy environs of the Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland. Yet if we did so, those eponymous boyz would take us to task for evoking the Satanic teachings of Mr. Darwin.

This off-off-Broadway lark chronicles the breakup of a Christian boy band. Ostensibly, it's a swipe at pious rock 'n' roll. Yet, in spite of its satiric pokes at chastity, gay crushes, Jews who shill for Jesus and soul-saving theatrics, the show is about as subversive as a rerun of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The score, by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, keeps its flavor for approximately the same length of time as a stick of Wrigley chewing gum.

What keeps these boyz afloat for 90 minutes is the show's unabashed, Glee-ish bonhomie. On the Hanna stage, this giddiness is brought to winking, but never obnoxious, fruition by director Scott Spence and his obliging cast. As the group's leader, Josh Rhett Noble hypnotizes with his Elmer Gantry-on-steroids grin. As Juan, Ryan Jagru pulverizes English with a nutty, Desi Arnaz aplomb. Connor O'Brien confounds us with a  Yiddishkeit worthy of Bing Crosby. And as the smitten Mark, Matthew Ryan Thompson out-twinkles Tinker Bell.

To make it all glow, lighting designer Trad A Burns imbues the stage with a Jesus Christ Superstar radiance. Best of all, choreographer Hernando Cortez manages to maneuver his boyz as if they were the Bill Baird Marionettes dancing for the delectation of Captain von Trapp and guests.

"Altar Boyz" may not save your soul, but it will do much to banish the chill from a wintry Saturday night.

"Altar Boyz" runs through Sunday, Jan. 30 at the Hanna Theatre. For tickets, go to or call 216-241-6000.

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