Tarell Alvin McCraney is an incredibly gifted writer. He penned the Oscar winning screenplay for “Moonlight”. And now with “Choir Boy” he flexes his theatrical muscle proving himself to be an equally talented playwright.
Pharus is in his last year at a prestigious prep school for young black men. Drew Prep is renowned for its gospel choir and Pharus, the school’s best singer, hopes to lead it. But through the year he’s put to the test, ribbed and bullied by the headmaster’s nephew while coming to terms with his sexuality. The play offers a unique perspective inside this bubbling cauldron of hormones and anxiety. The students are under tremendous pressure to perform well, please their parents, and display their manhood.
Trip Cullman's clear-eyed direction makes excellent use of music and movement to evoke the students’ surging emotions. Camille A Brown's cadenced movements and Fitz Patton's, original music and sound design deserve much of the credit as the boys’ acapella interludes speak volumes about their struggles.
Each of the performances ring oh so true. Chuck Cooper as the strict but understanding headmaster and Austin Pendleton as a rumpled but not so nutty professor are outstanding. And the young actors - J. Quinton Johnson as Pharus’s exacerbated tormentor Bobby; Nicholas L. Ashe as Junior his sidekick, Caleb Eberhardt as the hopelessly confused David and John Clay III, playing Pharus’ supportive jock roommate are all achingly authentic.
But it’s hard to imagine anyone but Jeremy Pope as Pharus. His off-the-wall energy playing the bright but headstrong character is infectious. And it is his impassioned performance that makes the play truly sing.
McCraney’s soulful writing brings to mind the great August Wilson. With "Choir Boy" he establishes himself as a major new voice in the theatre.