National Theatre of Paramatta’s production of Choir Boy is a must-see piece of theatre. The Tony-Award winning play was breathtaking and devastatingly necessary during its season at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane. The emotive play by American Tarell Alvin McCraney centered around a predominantly African-American boys preparatory boarding school as they tackled the integral themes of injustice, racism and homophobia throughout this high calibre contemporary production surrounding a boy’s acapella choir. The cast was undeniably exceptional as they navigated the ideals of acceptance, hope and triumph in the face of adversity.
Darron Hayes embodied the brave, vulnerable and lively Choir Leader, Pharus Jonathan Young with such commitment to the role. The American superstar performer reprised his role he played at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The beautiful confidence he exuded was sunshine in all its forms, you wanted to just bottle it up and take with you wherever you go. Despite the prejudice his character Pharus endured throughout the piece due to his sexuality, he kept his spirits high as the incredible source of hope for the insecure group of men who all struggle with their own demons.
Darron’s vocals were out-of-this-world Broadway standard and left the audience breathless with his emotive riffs and runs in his voice, especially in the opening song ‘Trust and Obey’. His ability to debate Pharus’ point of view and keep the viewers on their toes through the extremely poignant and tough situation he was struggling with was a testament to his incredible talent as an actor and performer.
Robert “Bobby” Marrow was personified by stage and screen performer, Zarif. Their performance as the school choir’s straight bully was not to be missed. They put their whole being into this character. Bobby deliberately put Pharus down and called him disgusting discriminative homophobic slurs, that was ultimately damaging and detrimental to his mental health and soul, no matter how much Pharus’ character shook it off. Zarif became Bobby through their incredible choices with, snarky looks, eye rolls and tough overarching body language when they verbally abused the choir leader. They say hurt people hurt other people and Zarif’s character Bobby had been hurt. Bobby had lost his Mother. There is no excuse for abuse. During the beautifully performed song, ‘Motherless child’ the audience saw how raw and emotional Bobby felt not having his Mother in his life and he took it out on Pharus. Zarif’s vocal ability is gorgeous. Through their voice they taught the Brisbane theatregoers several lessons about all perspectives in the situation and how integral the role of Bobby was in telling this important story.
The Headmaster Marrow was played by American actor, Robert Harrell. He had a beautiful viewpoint as an adult with a responsibility to protect the children in these intense instances of abuse and harassment. Robert was incredible in this role as the educator trying to keep the peace. His scenes with Pharus and Bobby respectively were similarly complicated and insightful as he asked them the big questions as they debated and tried to get the students to open up and be vulnerable with him, as they tried not to snitch on each other.
Junior “Jr” Davis was brought to life by the comedic relief of the piece, Gareth Dutlow. Gareth came alive as Bobby’s bestfriend and confidant through the student bullying event, even though he didn’t want to be involved in the abuse. Gareth kept the audience laughing in the intimate theatre as they revealed through their scene work and hilarious one liners that Junior just wanted to be part of something and be respected by all the members of the choir. The fun and entertaining hip-hop soulful song and dance Bobby and Junior performed for their assignment was upbeat and creative which showcased their friendship. You then saw Gareth’s serious side as they caught an abusive scene that Junior had to keep to himself.
Theo Williams as David Heard was so heartbreakingly beautiful as the closeted gay choir boy. His emotive performance was especially pertinent when the boys had 30 minutes to call home and he acted like everything was ok to his Mother and he was crying out for help on the inside. It was also particularly raw as he was practicing his song and speech for their assignment and Theo’s choices to keep trying different voices and ways to say it and then when he went to perform it, he was devastated when class was cancelled half way through due to other conflict in the room. The relationship between Pharus and David was gorgeous to witness as their secret love bloomed until they are caught and David’s first reaction is to hit Pharus in the face. The themes of fear, insecurity and societal pressures are put on display at this moment when Theo’s work as an actor acts as a vessel that shows society back to itself.
Quinton Rofail Rich embodied the roommate and bestfriend of Anthony Justin “AJ” James in this gorgeous play. Quinton tremendously played a student who defended Pharus in every instance, but then was equally silly and told him when he was being an idiot. His voice was amazing and made you feel like you were in the room with him feeling his emotions. Quinton was such a strong but graceful presence with the tough guy act but really cared for Pharus and his choir brothers underneath it all.
Legendary star of the stage, Tony Sheldon played the vivacious white teacher, Mr. Pendleton. He arrived back to the school to mix up the dynamic of the choir boys. A special lesson about listening to each other and debating some of their struggles. Sheldon kept up his goofy demeanor whilst really helping the students with the seriousness of the discrimination the African-American students face every day of their lives. The boys leaned on him and knew he wouldn’t take their bullsh**.
Tawanda Muzenda was swung on as the beautiful endearing presence of the ensemble and illustrated to the audience his sensation voice and important role within the acapella of the choir that the show demanded. The show’s use of chairs and other props to create a rhythmic drumming sound was intensely powerful to emulate the beating of their fragile hearts throughout the course of the show.
Choir Boy is required viewing for society as a whole. It breaks your heart wide open and makes you feel for the boys and what they are going through and how they are being discriminated against. Don’t miss this sensational cast bring to life this soulful story. We left the theatre thinking we were on the steps of Broadway with the quality of performance we witnessed. Choir Boy is a smash hit and so unbelievable powerful as it teaches the viewer to be empathetic and step into someone else’s shoes and treat people with respect and kindness.
Merrigong Theatre Company – Wollongong Town Hall, Wollongong
22 – 25 March, 2023
Canberra Arts Centre, Canberra
29 March – 02 April, 2023
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