Review: Choir Boy, starring Jeremy Pope
Something breathtaking is happening at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Choir Boy follows a group of young men at the Charles R. Drew Prep School, where Pharus (the magnetic Jeremy Pope) takes great pride in singing his school's anthem at commencement. However, a damper is put on his pride when fellow student Bobby (J. Quinton Johnson) whispers gay slurs at him. And while Pharus, Bobby, and their fellow students; Junior (Nicholas L. Ashe), AJ (John Clay III), and David (Caleb Eberhardt) may not always see eye to eye, they are brought together in song and beautifully raise their voices to touch the hearts of everyone watching.
The open secret of Pharus' sexuality is central to the show's story and the animosity between Bobby and Pharus, whose "secret" remains somewhat taboo to the other boys at the school. The tense and argumentative relationship between the two boys drives the plot forwards, with smaller subplots concerning the other students happening as well, though only really referenced in the time given to the students to call home.
The tension between Bobby and Pharus most often rises in choir, though Pharus initially kicks Bobby out of the group due to his words, and in a never fully explained class about creative thinking taught by Mr. Pendleton (Austin Pendleton) and put in place by Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper) in an effort to work on the dialogue and relationships among the students.
The most gloriously breathtaking moments of the show are when the cast sings. Joined by an ensemble (Daniel Bellomy, Jonathan Burke, Gerald Caesar, and Marcus Gladney), the music that emerges from the stage is unmatched by any other scene in its power. Music is the place Pharus can escape, noted by the decorations above his dorm bed, and it allows him to free himself from the rules and expectations of his school to be who he truly is and who he wants to be.
It's a powerful coming-of-age story, one that is made all the better through the songs that are incorporated. Each of the schoolboys has a chance to shine and share their emotions. This play would be incomplete without the powerful voices and performances given by each of them.