Capsule Stage Reviews: Altar Boyz, A Fertle Holiday

Altar Boyz There's no accounting for taste. No show makes that clearer than the award-winning, audience-pleasing sugar cube now causing cavities at Stages Repertory Theatre. Altar Boyz, the dithering musical about a Christian boy band by Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, is supposed to be parody, but the silly show is everything satire should not be — predictable, banal and even a little offensive. Created as a show within a show, the story takes place during a performance by the band, whose members introduce themselves in "We Are the Altar Boyz." Each goofily grinning group member inhabits a different stereotype. And this collection of stick figures might be okay if the music were better. But the tunes and lyrics are often just plain dull. And these driveling songs are strung together by a thin story. We hear about how the group got together and what sort of trials they are facing now as each has been tempted to sign a solo contract. The concert moves forward as the "Soul Sensor," an enormous electrified cross at center stage, counts down how many people in the audience have been saved over the course of the show (this conceit is too disturbing to be funny). When the number gets down to four, all seems to be about to wrap up except for a twist in the plot that reveals the Altar Boyz aren't as sweet as they appear. Each one is a little bit naughty. Once they confess, however, we are all saved from another moment of this inanity. Through January 20. 3201 Alley Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — LW

A Fertle Holiday It's hard to believe, but this wild-and-wacky Houston holiday treat, written by comedy genius Steve Farrell and performed to perfection by Radio Music Theatre's trio of zanies (Steve Farrell, Vicki Farrell and Rich Mills, who portray all the characters), is celebrating its 23rd anniversary. To say it's fresher than any fruitcake would be colossal understatement. Holiday is the first installment in Farrell's 15-play series on this most American of dysfunctional families and their equally dysfunctional friends and neighbors in Dumpster, Texas. The Fertle loons, led by bickering dad Ned and mom Mildred, gather to celebrate Christmas, and you've never seen a more neurotic set of mismatched tree ornaments: Menopausal daughter Justicena, her pinched, hen-pecked husband Pete and their hellion spawn Damien drive from Bangor, Maine, purloining towels, soap and the Gideon Bible from Motel 6 to give as presents; daughter Carol, now rich, flies in by charter plane, causing no end of resentment to loser brother Lou, who's stuck in Dumpster but too incompetent to figure out how to leave. Then there's brother Earl, the "slow" but sweet Fertle, still living at home, who stands in for the TV antenna when not sleeping by the cold stove; downer Uncle Al, mourning his wife and planning her funeral for Christmas day; and Doc Moore, whose showstopping gibberish diagnoses food poisoning, although no one can understandhim. The silliness is inspired and the comedy nonstop. Thisperfect Christmas show, as the song says, will have you"laughing all the way." Through January 19. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover
Lee Williams