Here is another case in which the performances exceed the caliber of the play. “Choir Boy,” a Manhattan Theatre Club presentation of the drama by Tarell Alvin McCraney, is yet another boy school story about lads dealing with homosexuality and growing-up anxieties. The difference in this situation is that the boys are African-American and part of a school choir, which offers the opportunity for singng impressively in addition to the tensions being exposed.
The cast under the direction of Trip Cullman is a stalwart one, especially with Jeremy Pope as the central Pharus Jonathan Young. Pope sings well and acts effectively in his role as a prep school student who is gay and emotionally needy even while he tries to assert himself with his urgent self-defining desire to make his mark leading the choir.
But the play abounds in plot clichés, seems overlong in its hour and 45 minutes without an intermission and abounds in predictable situations. Pharus’s nemesis is Bobby Marrow (a dynamic J. Quinton Johnson), an angry young man with complex issues of his own. Bobby is the nephew of Headmaster Marrow, played forcefully by Chuck Cooper, who tries to instill in students the need to respect fellow classmates.
Austin Pendleton makes the most of the interesting role of a white professor hired to elevate the students in education apart from their choir activity. His being white offers the opportunity for racism to surface, even though his credentials include having marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.
The various plot threads lead, as one might expect, to crises that heighten the drama. But much seems contrived. However, the choral singing, mostly of religious songs, but enhanced on occasion by some well-choreographed modern riffs, brighten the show. And always there is the assembly of fine performances that earned enthusiastic audience applause on the evening when I attended. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed January 10, 2019.