Oscar E Moore

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CHOIR BOY oh boy oh boy – Religion, repression, resilience and harmony

January 19th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore

To snitch or not to snitch?  That is the dilemma facing Pharus Jonathan Young (Jeremy Pope) the flamboyantly gay, smartass, witty, intelligent, Bible quoting, take-no-nonsense crap from anyone, limp-wristed scholarship student and resilient lead tenor of the choir at the fictional Charles R. Drew Prep School for black boys in CHOIR BOY written by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

First produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club off-Broadway in 2013 CHOIR BOY has had some repair work done and this revisal is now housed in the acoustically challenged Samuel J. Friedman Theatre once again produced by MTC with many of the original cast members in a limited run through February 24th.  Some further repairs are called for.

Right away one can’t help but notice that there is a problem.  One of age.  Five years ago these guys might have passed for prep school teenagers, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.

No matter how well they all act and sing and dance one cannot overlook that important detail.

Now back to Pharus.  When your nemesis and fellow choir member is Bobby Marrow (J. Quinton Johnson) the nephew of Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper) and you are in danger of losing your all-important, badly needed scholarship you would adhere to the school’s policy of not snitching (no matter what) even though you have just ruined the school anthem “Trust and Obey” at the 49th commencement ceremony due to the fact that Bobby has whispered “This faggot ass Nigga” just loud enough to unbalance you.

Perhaps Bobby has some problems about being queer himself? As in the lady doth protest too much?

Choirmates include Bobby’s best friend Junior Davis (Nicholas L. Ashe) who wavers throughout but is basically kind; the mysterious bespectacled David Heard (Caleb Eberhardt) seems to also have those kind of problems and the compassionate and straight roommate of Pharus, Anthony Justin “AJ” James (John Clay III) the hunky jock of the group whose body and soul are beautiful, especially when wearing just a towel in a couple of all important locker room scenes.  Steam vapors included.  Might even AJ have similar thoughts lurking within?  Note the tickle/giggle scene, the dirty sock scene and the haircut scene.

Austin Pendleton (portraying a confused professor Mr. Pendleton) has been brought in to teach a course in “Thinking” – perhaps it should be “corrected thinking”  His befuddlement only causes more problems in this already too-much-information-to-digest in this production directed by Trip Cullman which runs almost two hours without an intermission.

From the TV commercial featuring the five guys in their blue blazers, white button down shirts, khaki trousers and school regimental ties singing acapella, one is lead to believe that CHOIR BOY is all about the music.  In a way it is.  As the musical interludes are the best and most entertaining aspect of the show even though the numbers are shoehorned into the fragmented and complicated narrative.  Gorgeous close harmonies (Jason Michael Webb) with creative synchronized choreography by Camille A. Brown lift one’s spirits and supply hope.

The set design by David Zinn at first seems just right.  But the overall red color becomes annoying as does the blackboard that is never put to use besides rising to reveal the dorm room shared by Pharus and AJ.

However, I did relate.  Long Island City High School, 1961-2:

I was singing in the auditorium for my classmates a selection from GIRL CRAZY – a preview of the year end drama class production.  A few guys started to harass me shouting out gay slurs.  No one stopped them.  But I kept on singing.  As if nothing was bothering me.  They continued jeering at me for being a sissy.  I thought, well, if singing equals being a sissy so be it.  I was as resilient as Pharus and didn’t have to snitch.  Everyone had heard them.  I just kept singing.


Photos:  Matthew Murphy

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