A quintet of voices croon in perfect harmony, imploring the heavens for deliverance from evil. For the students of Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, singing in choir brings God almost within their reach. But where is He in their times of struggle on earth? GableStage, the Biltmore Hotel’s performing arts theater, grappled with the oppression of human failings in their production of “Choir Boy.”
“Choir Boy” is GableStage’s fourth production by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, a Miami native and recipient of the 2013 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. Unfortunately, the show fails to live up to this first-rate pedigree.
McCraney’s script follows a path that has become well-worn in entertainment in the past several years. Pharus (Din Griffin) is a talented singer and leader of the acclaimed Charles R. Drew Prep School Choir. However, he is also ostracized by his peers because of his homosexuality. Over the course of his senior year, he must overcome bullying, loneliness and his own shame, all while creating the best choir the school has ever seen with the help of a seasoned mentor (Peter Haig).
GableStage consistently produces art that challenges the audience’s preconceived notions or turns an old idea on its head to reveal hidden depths. Thus, it is particularly disappointing that “Choir Boy” is so predictable and shallow. The story plays out by the numbers (“Glee” fans may feel a sense of déjà vu), and most of the characters are little more than sketched-out stereotypes. There are traces of a far more interesting show in “Choir Boy;” a scene in which the boys debate the significance of traditional black spirituals to contemporary African-Americans showed a glimpse of an engrossing dissection of race and heritage. But these are quickly cast aside in favor of a retelling of an established trope that breaks no new ground.
Still, “Choir Boy” has the potential to be at least an engaging character study of Pharus and his classmates, but uneven performances dragged down this opportunity. Particularly in the first third of the play, the cast seemed oddly stiff. As Pharus, Griffin sometimes came across as more arrogant than sympathetic. His best moments came out of his relationship with his roommate Anthony (Datus Puryear). Puryear was a highlight of the show, endowing the tolerant baseball player with empathy and genuine warmth.
As the cast’s angelic voices filled the theatre at the show’s conclusion, the words of their spiritual took on a greater power than their textual meaning; they were filled with a divine longing and emotion. It was this kind of transcendence that was lacking from “Choir Boy” as a whole, an absence that the production couldn’t quite manage to overcome.
If You Go
Where: GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables, Fla.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 22
Cost: $40-$55 ($15 student tickets are avaliable on Thursday and Sunday nights)
For more information, call 305-445-1119 or visit gablestage.org