Choir Boy: A Review

The first thing I noticed upon entering the Centaur Theatre to see “Choir Boy” was that almost everyone there was a senior citizen. The second thing I noticed was that they were playing Kendrick Lamar in the foyer.
I can’t say that I’m an avid musical-goer and therefore am not up to date with all the pre-show protocols, but this was not what I had been expecting. Kendrick was followed by Drake, who was followed by Frank Ocean. I heard a few confused murmurs throughout the crowd, and then the lights dimmed, and the performance began.
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney (recently acclaimed for his work on 2016 Oscar-nominated “Moonlight”) and directed by Mike Payette, “Choir Boy” follows a group of young men involved in choir throughout their graduating year at Charles R. Drew Prep, a religious school for African-American boys with a reputation of instilling obedience, strength, and intelligence. Main character Pharus is the only openly gay student at the school and the musical is centered around his desire to lead the choir and to be respected by other students. While it touches on a multitude of heavy themes - religion, race, love, sexuality, growing up - it never feels as if it spreads itself too thin. 
Though many subjects are toyed with, by far the most touching is the piece’s portrayal of black masculinity. At the beginning we think we understand the good guys and the bad guys, but as the story evolves and we realise that all the characters are much more than meets the eye. Intimate moments such as phone conversations with family back home and chat in the showers give the audience a look at the softer, more gentle sides of each character, as well as their motivations for how they behave. As conflict arises, we can see it coming like a slow motion car crash, and we feel more upset than angry because we know that there is no one at blame. It is rare to find such a well-rounded take on masculinity, let alone black masculinity, and it was endearing to see the expression, creativity, humour and (for lack of a better word) “manliness” displayed alongside the vulnerability. 
While I was expecting more “it’s showbiz baby” type singing-and-dancing, the acting in “Choir Boy” is peppered with acapella gospel and r&b classics that are performed beautifully, and somehow manage to bring both relief, and emotional intensity to the play’s more potent parts. The stripped-down nature of the music is dazzling, often using five-part harmonies and solo performances to mirror the intimacy that builds within the narrative. 
Choir Boy is scheduled to hit broadway at the end of this year. For more information on Montreal showings, go to