BWW Review: CHOIR BOY Sings With Spirited Soul at THE BIRMINGHAM BLACK REPERTORY THEATRE COMPANY
The Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company steps to the plate with fierceness and momentum in its inaugural performance of the Tony award winning musical "Choir Boy." Written by Academy award winning director and writer of "Moonlight", Tarell Alvin McCraney. This show sings loudly with an empathetic and emotional voice. McCraney pens a coming-of-age play set to spirited music, dance and enlightenment; especially to those not of color. McCraney gives the plot a proper balance of dramatic vibrancy, snappy comedy, and characters you can connect with. The story is set at the Charles A Drew Preparatory School; a prestigious academy for young men of color. Pharus (Dorian Fomby) is a gifted high school student struggling to keep his homosexuality on the down low from his classmates. His flamboyant body language and mannerisms make Pharus (Fomby) an easy target of harassment from his ignorant classmates. One particular bully is Bobby (Dai'Sean Garrett). He takes a gleeful pleasure in torment. Pharus pushes though the harassment with a focus on leading the prestigious choir. Even under attack, Pharus remains honor bound to not snitching on his tormentors. With the students now entering their senior year Pharus's (Fomboy) voice and leadership skills lands him the coveted position of choir leader. The pressure and prejudice against him build up like a pressure cooker.
The character roster at the prep school is built with familiar teenage tropes. Abusive bully Bobby (Dai'Sean Garrett), athletic roommate Anthony (Christian Hatcher), oddball Junior (Terrance Campbell), bookish loner David (Damone Williams), quiet (Nicholas Reese), the stern Headmaster (Marc Raby), and eccentric white teacher Mr. Pendleton (Andrew Duxbury). What sets "Choir Boy" apart from other teen tales is the layered structure backed up with dynamic acting, and vocals from a cast of young men of color. The subjects of class, race and sexuality are exposed with extremely emotional results. Amidst the stress, pain and self doubt; the students all find a calming peace when they sing in unison. They discover the old Negro spirituals from long ago still resonate with spiritual assistance for them today.
Director Carlton Bell II leads a cast of vibrant actors with striking chemistry. Tears and laughs come naturally and often. Bell's approach draws impressive results that highlight many elements rooted in black culture. The young male cast sings with voices that electrify the theatre with angelic acapella harmonies. Arrangements provided by vocal director Aija Penix lift up your spirit. Choreographer Rachel Simmone brings it with jaw dropping moves that hit with thunderous motion of a black fraternity step show. Thumping moves in the intimate space make for energizing dance sequences that boldly capture your attention. Set designer Ashley Ann Woods delivers a set with character. A tiered, center-elevated platform allows for a creative way to provide multiple locations. The sanctuary like appearance lends itself to the spiritual element of the story. Lighting designer Ryan Key gives emotional support to the performances and mood. Costume's by Jada Cato provide a crisp attire of the characters.
A stand out element of this script is portraying middle class, black teenage boys in a positive light. Such depiction rarely shines through the usual pathetic tropes of gangs, drugs, basketball, or gangsta rap. Thankfully this story is free from all that ugliness. Black homophobia is an often unspoken element in our culture. Time has made for great strides to pave over such ignorance. "Choir Boy" provides a wonderful wake up call to those still in the "unspoken" mindset. Pharus (Fomby) is wearing himself down with heavy burden self-validation and survival. His struggle provokes the audience to reflect on bullying and oppression of gay teens. Pharus's journey plays out as an enriching story of acceptance and love. Love not only of yourself but also toward others. Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company is offering this engaging performance for a limited run of this weekend only at the Birmingham Festival Theatre.
Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company
Directed by Carlton V Bell II - Musical Direction - Aija Penix - Choreography - Rachel Simmone
Starring: Terrance Campbell, Andrew Duxbury, Dorian Fomby, Dai'Sean Garrett, Christian Hatcher, Marc Raby, Nicholas Reese, Damone Williams
Scenic Design - Ashley Woods, sound & lighting design - Ryan Key, costume & Prop Design - Jada Cato.
Birmingham Festival Theatre
1901 1/2 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
Friday August 23 - 7:30pm - SOLD OUT
Saturday August 24 - 2:30pm / 7:30pm
Sunday August 25 - 2:30pm / 7:30pm
Tickets and info : www.thebbrtc.com/or (205) 933-2383