A seemingly risky choice, Choir Boy could not have been a better pick to start the season on the Hertz stage and lead the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. Former competition winner Tarell Alvin McCraney’s (2008’s In the Red and Brown Water) has crafted an almost perfect, deeply moving play.
Pharus (Jeremy Pope) has made it to the top at Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. As a rising senior, he is singing the solo at graduation and will be choir lead the next year, but when someone yells out a slur, he chooses the high road. Instead of revealing to the headmaster who the student was, he upholds an unofficial student honor code and remains silent. However, he takes out his own revenge by kicking him out of the choir. As the year goes along, tensions rise and secrets are revealed.
Directed by Trip Cullman, the cast amazes. Just off a highly acclaimed run of the show at the Manhattan Theatre Club, Pope continues to wow audiences with his portrayal of the high-spirited young man. His performance is nothing short of spectacular. He holds the audience in his hands and allows it to feel his joys and hurt with him.
Equally as impressive is Caleb Eberhardt as the unassuming David. A little withdrawn at first, the character, who wants to be a minister, takes the performance into a new level in a gut-wrenching scene. His monologue stands as one of the most powerful in the whole play.
Some of the more tender moments of the play belong to John Stewart, who plays Pharus’ jock roommate AJ. While he wrestles with his own sense of awkwardness around Pharus, his sensitivity gives the show a heart, and the scene where he cuts Pharus’ hair is poignant.
At times Joshua Boone’s Bobby is a bit on the stereotypical side, but his strong characterization makes the character memorable. The cast also includes wonderful performances by Nicholas L. Ashe as Junior, Scott Robertson as the teacher Mr. Pendleton, and Charles E. Wallace as the steadfast headmaster of the school.
McCraney’s script takes a fresh look at the subject matter that in lesser hands could feel trite. His dialogue is crisp, witty and poetic, moving easily from a youthful vernacular to a philosophical statement.
The glue to the whole production is the music – a mix of hymns, gospel songs and pop songs. Sung a cappella, the actors deliver flawless vocals that exude deep emotion. Carefully chosen, the songs paint a beautiful picture of the interior of these young men and their emotions, beginning with the opening notes of “Trust and Obey,” the school’s song.
Timely, heartbreaking and powerful, Choir Boy plays at the Alliance Theatre on the Hertz Stage through October 13, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit our Now Onstage listing or the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is 1 hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. Please note that due to the staging of the production, there is no late admission, and if anyone leaves during the performance he/she will not be allowed to reenter.
– Kenny Norton