Choir Boy centers around five young men at Drew Prep School, a fictional African American boarding school (of which, the playbill tells us, only four exist). We witness their lives over the course of a school year, beginning with graduation at which Pharus (John-Michael Lyles) proudly leads the choir in the school song, until distracted by some homophobic heckling by his classmate Bobby (Darrick Mosley), who happens to be the nephew of the Headmaster (James Craven). This causes some tension in the choir room when the boys return to school in the fall, and newly appointed choir leader Pharus kicks Bobby off the choir, while allowing his sidekick Junior (Kory LaQuess Pullam) to stay. Pharus has a sweet friendship with his roommate AJ (Ryan Colbert), and some unspoken history with David (Nathan Barlow). A new (white) teacher (Robert Dorfman) comes in and tries to shake things up, challenging the boys to think about things in a new way. As graduation rolls around again, these five young men are in a different place in their lives, a bit older, a bit wiser, a bit more lost or a bit more found. It's really a slice of life kind of play, where you can imagine these characters' lives existing before the actions of the play, and continuing after the actions of the play, in a direction that's not clearly spelled out. We don't know the full stories of their lives, but getting to watch a year of their lives over the course of 90 minutes is a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
This play truly depicts the universal struggle of being a teenager and trying to figure out who you are and what your place is in this world, when so many external sources are telling you what to do, be, and think. This is conveyed through the specific challenges of being a young gay man in a strict Christian African American boarding school. And the music, which is absolutely beautiful and essential to the piece, really helps to create the specific world. Under the direction/arrangement of Sanford Moore, these five young men create some beautiful harmonies and fascinatin' rhythms on these traditional gospel and spiritual songs with a modern twist. The music is placed perfectly to enhance the storytelling, whether the song is mournful or joyful, and happens organically in scene transitions, rehearsals, or performances.
|the Choir Boys (Darrick Mosley, Ryan Colbert,
John-Michael Lyles, Nathan Barlow, and Kory LaQuess Pullam,
photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
Michael Hoover's sharp set simultaneously represents five different settings (dorm room, Headmaster's office, showers, classroom, and yard) on multiple levels, making great use of the upper story balcony in the Dowling Studio. And what was it that Chekhov said? If you show a shower on stage, you must have a shower scene? Both Damn Yankees and Choir Boy deliver on that promise, although the latter with more realism.
I saw Choir Boy last Saturday night at the Guthrie Theater, home of three stages in one building. It also happened to be the first preview of The Music Man, and the joint was jumping! Even though I was annoyed to find my usual parking level full, and people clogging the escalator, hallways, and bathrooms, like the man I rode the elevator with said, it's nice to see so many people out supporting the arts. And three such different plays on the three stages - a 90-year-old Irish play that is departing Artistic Director Joe Dowling's swan song, one of the most beloved American musicals, and this exciting new play about young African American men coming of age. Some 2000 people, all gathered together in one space to share in the experience of live theater - what a beautiful thing (thanks again Joe Dowling!). Choir Boy continues through July 5.
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.