Phillip Clemons, Shaquille Townes, Adam Byrd, & Yehuda Jai Husband. Photo: Bill Brymer.
By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Alonzo Ramont
Review by Brian Kennedy
Entire contents are copyright, © 2020 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved.
With flat out, incredible singing and excellent movement through complicated issues, Pandora Productions’ Choir Boy is no-doubt about it a winner.
Choir Boy features Pharus, a gay youth who has every intention to be the greatest choir leader in the 50-year history of Charles R. Drew Prep School. In his quest, he, and by extension, the rest of the choir plus a teacher and headmaster will run headlong into issues of tradition, ritual, race, and sexuality.
Shaquille Townes was a delight as Pharus thanks to assured acting and appropriate character choices. This includes bringing forth mannerisms both subtle and outlandish to showcase his character’s flamboyance or hidden pain, depending on what was needed at any given moment.
Meanwhile, Yehuda Jai Husband, as Bobby, uses the right amount of energy and intensity to provide an excellent counterpoint to Pharus. Adam Byrd, as A.J., Pharus’s friend and roommate, does a great job showing genuine concern and affection for Pharus, especially as Pharus’s pain begins to show through.
Although the above actors were standouts, the entire cast in Choir Boy (Philip Clemons as David, Marcus Fischer as Headmaster Marrow, Leondre Northern as Junior and William Strauss as Mr. Pendleton) gave solid performances, clearly showcasing their particular characters’ paths through the deep issues that surround the play. Other than a few minor line flubs (all quickly recovered), the acting was excellent.
Then, there’s the singing and choreography. There were so many wonderful things about both solo and harmony voices. Each performer was pitch-perfect with a smooth-as-silk tone. When they brought their voices together, all that can be said is WOW. The touring Broadway musicals coming through Louisville with double, triple, or quadruple the voices cannot match the power of the handful of performers in this show. Harmonies were on point, tight, projected well (Did they even need the way-too-obvious body mics?), and made the audience feel something every single time. One would want to stand up and say “Amen” after some of the spirituals.
One spiritual, in particular, came about halfway into the first act and found the group singing and performing movements incredibly well. Utilizing handclaps, slapping parts of the body in rhythm, moving in and out of line as well as in between each other, the actors performed these complicated movements seemingly with ease. It was a thrill to experience this.
Director Alonzo Ramont and choreographer Alfie Jones clearly did an excellent job getting the actors prepared for all phases of Choir Boy. Go see the show for the singing, and stay for the excellent acting and well-told, deep stories about tradition, racism, and sexuality.
January 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 @ 7:30 pm
January 12 @ 2:30 & 19 @ 5:30 pm
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
For tickets go to Pandoraprods.org
Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana.