Yale Repertory Theatre
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s excellent play, “Choir Boy,” is being given a strong production at Yale Repertory Theatre. Focusing on the character of Pharus (terrifically played by Israel Erron Ford), a gifted student at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, “Choir Boy” shows how Pharus tries to take his place as the leader of the school choir and the various obstacles in his way. Director Christopher D. Betts stages the show smoothly through its two hour running time, with a wonderful cast and design team. This play also explores the subject of homosexuality, as well as homophobia, as it reveals Pharus’ coming of age story. In between the dramatic scenes, there is a great deal of beautiful a cappella singing, which fills the theater with joy. “Choir Boy” is a deeply felt and worthwhile show at Yale Repertory Theatre, and it is most highly recommended.
On scenic designer Anna Grigo’s inviting and appropriate set of a boys’ prep school, with several set pieces brought on to fit each individual scene, “Choir Boy” opens with Pharus leading the choir in song, but during this initial scene, another character, Bobby (the imposing Anthony Holiday), does everything he can to disrupt Pharus, including using many homophobic slurs. The bulk of the story of “Choir Boy” is how Headmaster Morrow, nicely portrayed by Allen Gilmore, attempts to address this conflict amongst the boys’ choir. It should also be mentioned that Bobby is the headmaster’s nephew, with more than a bit of nepotism thrown into the mix.
One aspect which really makes “Choir Boy” work so well is the talented group of actors in the company. Israel Erron Ford possesses a great deal of charisma and he is pretty great in the lead, as well as being believable as the appropriate student to lead the choir. As his sympathetic roommate, Anthony, the excellent Malik James lends Pharus support as much as he can, and he is a welcome source of compassion among the group of boys at the school. And then there is Bobby, who acts as the antagonist in the show and Anthony Holiday is quite apt in the role. But the entire cast of “Choir Boy” shines, with fine contributions by Aaron James McKenzie and Jarrett Anthony Bennett, who thrillingly lift their voices in song. Other than the headmaster, the only other authoritative figure is the professor Mr. Pendleton, well played by Walton Wilson, but the real heart of the show is with the group of boys.
As mentioned, “Choir Boy” is fantastically punctuated by many moments of vocal beauty, as the boys harmonize flawlessly. Aiding the director is the terrific choreographer Amy Hall Garner, who supplies wonderful dance sequences, which help “Choir Boy” move so well from scene to scene. The costumes designed by Stephen Marks are entirely appropriate for a boys’ prep school and lighting designer Riva Fairhall’s work is pretty extraordinary. Allen Rene Louis is the expert music director and is also responsible for the gorgeous vocal arrangements. Without giving too much away, intimacy director Kelsey Rainwater does a great job in guiding a few key scenes.
“Choir Boy,” at Yale Repertory Theatre, is filled with many touching, as well as disturbing, moments and one can’t help rooting for Israel Erron Ford’s Pharus to attain his goal of leading the school choir. Staged without an intermission, “Choir Boy” is paced extremely well by the director, and the show certainly holds the audience’s attention throughout. By turns, moving, provocative, and joyous, this production of “Choir Boy” is quite an achievement for Yale Repertory Theatre and, as such, is definitely worth a look, if only to bask in the glow of the truly glorious a cappella singing.
“Choir Boy” runs through April 23, 2022 at Yale Repertory Theatre, in New Haven CT. For tickets and more information, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.
Photo: (L-R): Aaron James McKenzie, Israel Erron Ford, and Malik James
Photo by Joan Marcus