Sunday, January 16, 2011

Altar Boyz, Beck Center at PlayhouseSquare

(The Boyz. Dan Grgic in foreground with, l. to r.:Connor O'Brien, Josh Rhett Noble, Matthew Ryan Thompson, and Ryan Jagru)

There aren’t many cottage industries in professional theater, but it seems that Josh Rhett Noble has a pretty good thing going with Altar Boyz, now playing the Hanna Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. After playing lead singer Matthew at Beck Center a couple years ago, and at TrueNorth Theatre last autumn, here he goes again.

It’s all about five guys in a Christian rock band who talk their way through a concert as they try to save all the souls in attendance. This process is tallied by the Sony Soul Sensor, a pile of electronics that can detect when a soul has been cleansed of its various flaws and defects. (Perhaps they can ship it over to Fox News once the show is over.)

This production on the Great Lakes Theater Festival stage is essentially a redo of the former Beck production, with four of the five cast members and most of the production people reprising their work. And that’s not such a bad thing, since this energetic romp directed by Scott Spence is a feel-good 90 minutes. It also works because it praises the Lord without being nasty or divisive; it’s welcoming for just about anyone.

The band is a motley crew, with the pretty straight (in all ways) Matthew joined by fey Mark (an adorable Matthew Ryan Thompson), streetwise punk Luke (Dan Grgic), the Latino Juan (Ryan Jagru), and their Jewish lyricist Abraham (Connor O’Brien). The Boyz attack the songs by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker with unflagging gusto, and have plenty of fun with the sub-storylines in Kevin Del Aguila’s book.

Unfortunately on opening night, there were problems with sound balance so that quite a few of the clever lyrics were swamped by Larry Goodpaster’s band. And the Soul Sensor suffered from digital constipation, at times throwing off the soul countdown.

One must assume those glitches will be fixed, allowing this reborn fab five to sing, rock and jam their way into a very satisfying run.

Altar Boyz

Through January 30 at the Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 2067 E. 14th St., 216-241-6000

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