There is much praise to sing about Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Choir Boy." The 90-minute drama with music is an extremely engaging work featuring a gifted ensemble comprised of stellar veterans and fresh young talent.
There are actually five choir boys. Pharus is the protagonist but all of the characters -- students and faculty in a boarding school for young black men -- are painted in similarly detailed strokes.
From his mannerisms, it's clear that Pharus is gay. He's also the school's best singer and he knows it. Such traits are bait for bullies and Pharus' chief antagonist is Bobby, the hot-tempered nephew of the school's well-intentioned headmaster.
Pharus' roommate, AJ, a popular jock, turns out to be a good friend. The tightly wound David wants to enter the clergy. And Bobby's friend Junior just seems to along for the ride.
The title comes from the school's celebrated choir with a repertoire of gospel music. Pharus wants desperately to be their leader but his arrogance doesn't help. The songs, gorgeously sung a capella, lend tremendous resonance to the play's themes exploring racial sensitivities and of course a young gay man's coming of age.
McCraney is just 32 but he writes with a maturity and depth beyond his years. My only criticism is that he tends to cut short dramatic scenes in mid-stride. Fortunately director Trip Cullman smooths the play's rough edges with great flair.
All of the performances are standouts. Chuck Cooper and Austin Pendleton as a respected teacher are themselves lessons in naturalism. Newcomer Jeremy Pope is sensational, finding dimension in every note and word uttered by the intriguingly complex Pharus.
To the playwright's credit, there are no angels in this play. In other words they're all very real people with plenty to teach us.