A Rousing Meditation
By Paul Atreides
Author, playwright Theatre critic at EatMoreArtVegas.com
Let’s start out by making the observation that it’s heartening to once again see opening nights so well attended. Vegas Theatre Company (VTC) opened Choir Boy, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Oscar-winning co-writer of Moonlight (based on his play) to an SRO crowd. Choir Boy is a play-with-music and centers on the themes of race, coming-of-age, and coping with the conundrum of religious beliefs regarding homosexuality. It’s a meditation of sorts with rousing music and spirituals and heart-pumping dance.
Directed by China Hudson, it becomes a celebration of life as much as it is about any of the above ideations. It’s beautiful and moving and funny. Hudson has assembled and deftly lead a very skilled cast. The voices are angelic; the dance is energetic as things transition from place to place within the elite Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys with perfect in-sync, step-blocked choreography by Jason Nious; all presented on a sparse set which brings the various places throughout the school proper to life, including a shower billowing with steam.
Everything centers around Pharrus Jonathan Young (Daniel Bryan), a boy gifted with intelligence and vocal chops as he waits his turn as choir leader. Bryan manages to slip in and out of RuPaul-style snap with ease, bringing a sense of three-dimensional realness to the character.
Dominc Graber-Pritchard, Michael Hines, Julius Funches II, and Samuel Stewart make up the ensemble of talented guys pushing and bullying as young men do in situations where they are faced with life transition. And sing their hearts out. The standout among them is Jordan Karst as Anthony Justin “AJ” James, the school jock who tries his best to help Pharrus find an even keel. Karst moves through the play with quiet determination, always on point. But things are not always what they seem.
As the tension between the students mounts, Mr. Pendleton, a retired professor played by Gary Lunn, is brought in to teach them a bit of critical and creative thinking and attempt to build bridges of camaraderie. Lunn brings appropriate bluster and belly laughs as a bumbling old white man at this all-Black school…until he explodes with indignation at the way the young men treat and speak to each other.
Playing the Headmaster is Yomi Orru, who manages transitions through understanding and exasperation with aplomb. The seriousness is embedded with joviality and kindness as he removes Pharrus as choir lead.
The script could be meatier, particularly the final scene. The whole ends with a whimper as main bully Bobby Marrow (Graber-Pritchard) stands alone center stage to sing the school song. It wasn’t until the cast came out and lined up for bows that anyone realized the play had ended. However, director Hudson rescues that flaw with a curtain call that brought the audience to their collective feet.
Queue up for tickets and get in step or risk missing this. Tickets are bound to go fast.
What: Choir Boy
When: 7:30 p.m. May 26, 27, 29, June 3, 5, 9, 10
2 p.m. May 27, June 3, 10
5 p.m. May 26, June 4, 11
Where: 1025 S. 1st St., Suite 110
Tickets: $20 - $40
Grade: ***** Irresistible
Producer: Vegas Theatre Company; Artistic Director: Daz Weller; Director: China Hudson; Musical Director: Justin Ash, Robert West; Set Design: Whitney Lehn Meltz; Lighting Design: Sydney May; Sound Design: John Howard; Costume Design: Candice Wynants; Stage Manager: Zachary Krause