Monday, January 21, 2019

Choir Boy

Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy, just extended at the Friedman, is poignant, moving, and lovely. A coming-of-age drama set in an exclusive all-male, all-black boarding school, the swift 100-minute show focuses on Pharus Jonathan Young, a queer high-school senior whose greatest pride and source of comfort is his role as leader and star tenor of the school choir. Played by a truly exceptional Jeremy Pope, Pharus is deeply nuanced and often highly contradictory: smart, headstrong and self-possessed; unsure of who he is and where he belongs in the world.

Matthew Murphy

Much like McCraney's MoonlightChoir Boy places focus on the personal development of a single gay, black, male character over time; whereas Moonlight followed Chiron from youth to adulthood, Choir Boy covers events that take place in the course of a single year. Scenes are frequently punctuated by choreographed choral arrangements of gospel chestnuts, many of which touch on the character's situations or emotional highs and lows. Some of the choral arrangements are more sophisticated than others, but the concept works consistently, and some of the numbers are particularly effective.

The general consensus among critics about Choir Boy is that Pharus is far better developed than the characters who surround him, and who alternately make high school life less or more difficult for him. But I don't care, even a little bit, about the fact that the supporting characters don't have the depth or nuance of Pharus. They're engaging enough; the company is well-cast and talented to a man. And anyway, this is Pharus's story, and his very real ups and downs are well worth the audience's attention. How many times, after all, have characters like Pharus been made secondary, flimsy, shoved off to the side, reduced to two dimensions and a couple of stereotypical gestures designed to amuse spectators?  

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