GableStage opened its production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy on January 24, 2015.
When a young man is named leader of the celebrated gospel choir at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for African-American Boys, the sweet harmonies of classical spirituals contrast with the bristling tensions that arise. A music-filled story of masculinity, tradition, coming of age and speaking your truth.
Joseph Adler directed a cast that included James Randolph, Din Griffin, Melvin Cox, Vlad Dorson, Datus Puryear, Samuel Enmund, and Peter Haig
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Immeasurably elevated by thrilling music performed live in five-part harmony, the depiction of this difficult dance is the premise and theme of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy in GableStage’s intriguing production.
Actor Din Griffin, Adler and McCraney construct a fascinating creature in Pharus. Griffin’s Pharus not only has a slight lisp, but a tendency to let his wrists go limp as he strikes overly-dramatic poses, something his headmaster calls him out on. His seemingly uncensored and outsized ego may mask years of being scorned but he can be borderline obnoxious and is not at all above being manipulative since he thinks his intelligence and talent should trump any issue of sexuality… it becomes instantly clear that Pharus is doing what he loves and he knows he is doing it very, very well. Which gives him something to lose.
The Miami-raised and internationally-renowned author is better known for highly-stylized forays into theater like The Brother/Sister Plays. While Choir Boy is more naturalistic than any of his works previously performed in Florida, the GableStage performances feel more like characters being acted than people.
The other nagging problem is that Pharus does not demonstrably learn anything or change other than be faced with what he already knows – life’s not fair. So while the play structurally begins and ends with graduation ceremonies a year apart, the play has no satisfying thematic or dramaturgical resolution.
But it’s not possible to overstate the power and skill of the frequent choral music between scene changes that comment on the meat of the previous scene. The five actors’ vocal gifts have been meticulously blended by local actress Christina Alexander using Jason Michael Webb’s arrangements that intertwine voices like a DNA double-helix reaching for the sky.
Adler’s direction is, as always, almost invisible, yet it is the guiding shaping hand of evening, especially since the playbill indicates that most of the young actors have musical theater experience but not many roles with dramatic demands.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Newly opened at GableStage, Choir Boy is the fourth work by the widely acclaimed, Miami-raised playwright that the company has produced... McCraney directed the first three, but this time, GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler has staged the show with a significant assist from music director Christina Alexander.
The performances in Choir Boy, both the acting and singing, are uniformly strong.
Griffin is a charismatic Pharus, a complicated kid who refuses to dial down his inner light. Cox makes Bobby his opposite, a kid with a hair-trigger temper and a mean streak. Dorson, a sunny actor with a high speaking voice, has spot-on comic timing as Junior, and Enmund telegraphs just enough of David’s troubled spirit to make the play’s denouement unsurprising. Puryear’s A.J. is an idealized, evolved adolescent; the scene in which he trims Pharus’ hair is one of the loveliest in Choir Boy. Veteran actors Haig and Randolph bring decades of finely honed skills to the stage, and Randolph (who really is a teacher at New World) lends his powerful voice to Been in the Storm So Long near the end of the play.
The music, under Alexander’s direction, is gloriously and impeccably delivered. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is especially haunting, an expression of loneliness, yearning and hope. At Drew, music is Pharus’ sustenance and salvation. Listening to the cast of Choir Boy sing, we understand.
GableStage present’s Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy through February 22, 2015.