Saturday February 24th 2018

“Choir Boy”

Highly Recommended **** Raven Theatre, celebrates its 35th season by hosting the Chicago premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy”. This is quite the feather in its cap, as one would anticipate one of the “downtown” venues doing so. But, Raven, a leader in the Chicago theater scene, not only snared the rights, it also has brought to its stage a sparkling example of the quality of work they bring to their stages in the neighborhood. “Choir Boy” which was first presented some four years ago is a story that probably is very real. It takes place in an African-American prep school for boys. The school is the Charles R. Drew Prep School and this school is dedicated to bringing up strong ethical African-American men.

In this 90 minutes ( no intermission) story we meet five of these students, their head-master and an older teacher, who is White, and perhaps is a key to the answers these young men are searching for. The five young men are part of the school choir . They come from different backgrounds and during the story we learn more about each and every one of them. Directed to perfection by Michael Menendian on the larger East Stage (120 seats), on a wonderful set (Ray Toler truly uses the space to its best advantage) with great lighting (Diane D. Fairchild) and sound ( Sebby Woldt), this play moves swiftly through a year in the lives of these young men.

Our “key” player (who is the “Choir Boy”) is Pharus (marvelously played by Christopher W. Jones) who has earned the right to be the leader of the choir, an honor bestowed upon him for following the rules and rituals of being a “Drew”. His one problem is that he is “different” and the other choir members are unhappy with his being so. Bobby ( deftly handled by Patrick Agada) who is a nephew to the Head-master (played to perfection by Robert D. Hardaway) has definite problems with Pharus and his lifestyle. Bobby’s best pal ,Junior (Julian Terrell Otis, who adds some comic touches to the choir boys and has an amazing voice) seems to go along with him on every turn, and both would rather see Pharus and his “type” gone.

David ( Darren Patin) is the quietists of the boys, having decided that he is going into the ministry after he graduates, and Anthony, Pharus’ roommate ( Tamarus Harvell), a baseball scholarship student round out the “quintet”. By the way, all five of these men are singers! I don’t mean just singers but SINGERS, who can harmonize and hit notes that I would need a ladder to reach! Much of the story is about Pharus having to deal with being picked on by the others and his dealing with the nepotism from his Headmaster over Bobby, his “arch-enemy”. Pharus is the leader and the others are not quick to comply with his requests. Meanwhile, Headmaster  Marrow needs to show the Board of Directors of the school that he is the right man for the job.

I do not want to give away any of the actual story or how we get to the natural ending that McCraney has written, but will tell you that there is much discussion about music for the African-Americans and that some of it may have been tied to the slavery of their ancestors and how each of the singers/students has different opinions about the music. Is it “soul” music, Religious” music or “Ritual” music. Some of the explanations that they give could be true, but on the other hand, what matters is the differences they feel for each other. Pharus never tries to hide his gayness and while the headmaster always anticipated the other boys picking on him for it, what ends up taking place is not even close to what he had expected.

The “white” man I mentioned earlier, Mr. Pendleton (sharply played by Don Tieri) in many ways brings out the best in some of these young men by showing them that being different is not a bad thing. He tests them over and over and forces them to look at themselves through other people’s eyes. The ending may surprise you, or even shock you, but it will make sense, and what more can you ask? The other technical aspects of this production are very solid with great costumes ( JoAnn Montemurro) props ( Mary O’Dowd) and musical direction by Frederick Harris and choreography by Breon Arzell. Although not a musical, the music that you hear is beautiful and soulful. The fight choreography by David Woolley is powerful as well.

“Choir Boy” will continue at The Rave Theatre located at 6157 N. Clark Street (at Granville) thru November 12th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets are $46 ($43 if purchased online) Seniors $5 discount Teachers the same and students/veterans and active military $15. To order/reserve call 773-338-2177 or visit www.raventheatre.com

Free parking in the lot adjacent to the theater. Street parking is metered and some not, but check the meters before leaving the car as times are different on many.

Public transportation- is readily available. The Clark #22 stops at the door.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Choir Boy”.

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