Review By Lauren Donikian
We all remember what it was like to be in high school, and whilst most people thrived there were a select few that were just trying to survive. This is a huge theme in Choir Boy as it provides its audience an insight into the lives of a group of young men that are attending Charles R Drew, a Prep school for boys.
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Choir Boy is a story about acceptance, race, and sexual identity. Produced by the National Theatre of Parramatta in association with Sydney World Pride Choir Boy is directed by Dino Dimitiriadis and Zindzi Okenyo. Premiering for the first time in Australia this Tony award winning musical has made Sydney its first stop.
The set is simple, with blue lighting, a small set of stairs and a platform and to one side of the stage there is a frame that is used as stain glass windows in a church and provides a peek into the showers at the boy’s academy. The cast create the music, acapella gospel hymns are sung throughout with chairs and foot stomping to maintain the rhythm. There are some songs that are choreographed with contemporary style movements as the real focus is on the vocals.
The cast are a mix of Australian and international talent with stand out performances by Darron Hayes, who plays the lead role of Pharus. Hayes energy is infectious, and his voice is as smooth as butter. His breath control is something to be envious of and his runs had someone in the audience shouting “boy, you better sing” and he sure did. He held his own and like his character is right where he needs to be. In the spotlight shining on stage. Australia’s own Theo Williams who plays David is an unexpected talent. As his character becomes more self-aware his vocals get stronger and louder. He has an incredible tone and plays his tortured character honestly.
This is a small but mighty cast of talented performers who sound like innocent choir boys in one scene and haunting in the next. Musical Director Allen René Louis said that the inspiration for the music was to honour their ancestors “to stay in the roots of the music which is negro spirituals and honouring that legacy but also bringing in current black expression to this sacred art form”, The songs are incredibly moving, and I found myself leaning forward in my seat to hear them louder and clearer.
Choir Boy ended unexpectedly and if I’m honest, I was not ready for it to end. I wanted more. This musical is not just for teen or Queer audiences, it is for anyone that has ever been bullied, judged for their decisions, or forced to assimilate into society’s expectations to be accepted. Whilst dealing with some home truths, there are moments of the comfort and acceptance found in friendship, love, and the pure joy of doing something you love. For Pharus, this is to sing and with a voice like that he won’t go quietly, no matter how hard people try.
Image Credit: Phil Erbacher
NB: The night attended was a preview night