Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review of Choir Boy at Raven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Choir Boy. It was by Tarell Alvin McCraney and it was directed by Michael Menendian. It was about a young man named Pharus (Christopher W. Jones) who went to an all-boys boarding school. And he was the choir lead for the school's a cappella group. But he had an enemy, Bobby Marrow (Patrick Agada), who wanted to bring him down because of his position in the choir and also his sexuality. Bobby's friend Junior (Julian Terrell Otis) is not completely on board with the whole making-fun-of-Pharus thing. The other student Bobby is trying to get on board is David (Darren Patin) a minister in the making who also isn't really sure about himself. AJ (Tamarus Harvell) is Pharus's main supporter. They are roommates and basically best friends. Bobby's uncle is the headmaster (Robert D. Hardaway), so it doesn't seem like Bobby gets the right consequences for his actions. Headmaster Marrow wants Pharus to succeed but moreover he wants his nephew to succeed, so he is sort of stuck. They have a new teacher, Mr. Pendleton (Don Tieri), who has come out of retirement to teach these teens, but he is not always aware that what he is saying might be racist. I thought that this was a fascinating and complex show. I loved the plot and I think it had some really great performances and musical arrangements.

I think Pharus is a really complicated character. You're rooting for him most of the time, but it seems like he has some faults. Like he tries to get what he wants without always considering other people's feelings. He is very competitive. One thing that is really good about him is that he will be himself no matter what other people think. He is also a really good friend to AJ and he wants to do well by his mother. As the choir leader, he seems to get everyone to do what they need to do. I think it makes for a very interesting story to have a main character who doesn't have all noble purposes. He loves people, but he also loves attention and being in the spotlight, and he is willing to make other people unhappy to get that.

I really loved the music in the show. I think the arrangements (music director Frederick Harris) were really great. I really loved the song "Rockin' Jerusalem." I think it was super cool and had some really good choreography (by Breon Arzell). They are all calling their parents while they are singing it and basically you get to hear how their home life isn't that great, and how they are all afraid of disappointing their parents or that they already have. The song is happiness and jubilation but while they are actually talking they are not happy or full of jubilation. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" was a pretty sad song, as you can probably tell by the title. It is really sad because it shows how these kids don't get to see their parents much anymore. That actually might be their experience; they might feel like a motherless child. They are teenagers and they have a lot of stuff they should probably be talking about to their parents. But they aren't because they can't because their parents aren't actually there. They can talk to them over the phone, but that isn't the same. All of the song selections really worked with what was happening in the play, which made it super moving.

I think the show has three characters that are kind of the voice of reason in this teenage tornado: Mr. Pendleton, Headmaster Marrow, and AJ. Headmaster Marrow, when he is talking with Pharus after he has messed up the school song (but for good reason), he talks to him about it and finds out what the circumstances were and tries to solve the problem. Mr. Pendleton, although he doesn't make the best first impression, he does grow on the students and makes the choir get back together. And he talks to the headmaster about the headmaster's cluelessness about the sexuality of his students. AJ helps out Pharus a lot by helping him make his accusations and ideas a lot less extreme. But he also has a lot of fun with him and doesn't act like the adult in the room at all times. I think it is important to have the voices of reason in all these different packages instead of just having one guardian angel watching over everything because you get to see all the different ways people can do the right thing. And it shows that Pharus has someone there to talk to, literally in his room, and other resources, but there are other people in the show who don't know they have that, and they would be better for it if they knew they did.

People who would like this show are people who like voices of reason, complicated heroes, and Rockin' Jerusalem. I think that people should definitely see this show. I have never seen a show like it. It had a really interesting plot and was really well performed. I really liked it!

Photos: Dean La Prairie

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