Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Choir Boy **

I wish I had not read the glowing reviews of Tarell Alvin McCraney's drama with music at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II, because they set me up for disappointment. The a cappella singing of the actors portraying members of the gospel choir and the headmaster of an elite black prep school is gorgeous, but the drama into which the music is blended could use deeper character development and fewer subplots. Jeremy Pope is strong as the effeminate student choir leader who is as much bully as victim. Nicholas L. Ashe, Kyle Beltran, Grantham Coleman and John Stewart are all fine as the other students. Charles E. Wallace is admirable as the headmaster and Austin Pendleton is believable as the retired historian brought in to hone the boys' intellect (a la "History Boys"). The plot is often contrived and predictable. Jason Michael Webb made the fine vocal arrangements. David Zinn's set and costumes are excellent and Trip Cullman's direction is smooth. I might have enjoyed it more had I been expecting less. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.


Anonymous said...

I have read your review of Choir Boy a couple of times, and I agree overall with your assessment of the show. I must say, however, that had I read only your review and not the “glowing” reviews that preceded yours, I might well have skipped the show. I subscribe to MTC and I have generally had a good time at their Stage 1 productions, but often have been disappointed by what they present on stage 2. Choir Boy was a clear exception for me. Despite the weaknesses that you accurately describe, the music and the performances of that music made the show, for me, thoroughly enjoyable. I was hugely entertained and at times moved. I will concede that a lifetime of hearing music of this genre probably enhanced my enjoyment. I still listen regularly to gospel and blues. Anyway, I think your review is spot on, as they say. But I would have been happier if you had concluded that despite obvious weaknesses, the show was worth seeing for the vocal performances alone.

Robert Sholiton said...

Your comments about my review of Choir Boy are well-taken. Even my new rating system doesn't have enough nuance -- I really wanted to give it 2 1/2 stars. The music was glorious. I would have preferred a 90-minute concert to the story told. If I can seen it cold, without the high expectations raised by the reviews, I might have squeezed out a third star.