Steppenwolf Theatre Presents CHOIR BOY Review — Pride Month Capstone

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It seemed like we could see them most clearly in the dark shadows of the shower room…

In the recesses of the stage, behind pillars that evoke visions of Ancient Greeks’ odes to youthful pulchritude, shower spouts pour down on the young men of the fictitious Drew Academy Black Boarding School.

Even with the full frontal male nudity we rarely see on stage in the mix, we feel—or at least this reviewer does—their vulnerability of being in that painfully fragile moment when the road to manhood lies before them as a mountain to climb. There is quiet in this room, save the sound of the running water. The jocular verbal sparring is gone, as is the singing that all these choir boys have mustered in every scene of what until now feels like music-with-play. Stripped of their jockeying to be top dog bravado, their naked bodies lay bare just how delicate they are.

Steppenwolf Theatre CHOIR BOY
Tyler Hardwick as Pharus

Though he keeps his towel on in this scene, this is especially the case for our lead character Pharus (Tyler Hardwick), who walks the fine line of being both a man-wanna-be like his teen peers, but also a Gay one. Anachronistic hate words like swish or faggot have ruled his inner life for most of his years, we later learn. His saving grace is his golden chords, and there is no way on heaven or earth he won’t be top tenor—NO WAY!

If you were alive and sentient during the Stonewall Uprising that some don’t remember Pride Day/Month commemorates, you will likely know the story arc from one of the earliest scenes when Pharus has his first talk with the seemingly closeted Head Master (La Shawn Banks).

Though we can see the train wreck ahead, from moment to moment we mainly feel the joy and high spirits of youth. These kids can sing! These kids can dance!  From mournful renditions of spirituals, to high steppin’ choreography as comraderie, and musical genres beyond and in between, we go the gamut of emotions through their songs and dance.  If you don’t hear their high notes (and baritone low notes) as a call-and-response summons, do know that many sitting around you will.  These performers are charisma-powered, in this writer’s opinion.

Steppenwolf Theatre Times CHOIR BOY as a Pride Month Capstone

Though you, unlike this writer, won’t be making your way to the theater through the Pride Day parade crowd, you too might see this not so much as a Gay Coming-of-Age story as OUR Coming-Of-Age story.  True, recent events suggest that Gay Marriage might be next on the Supreme Court chopping block.  But it’s the audience erupting into louder cheers for actor Sheldon D. Brown who plays the good-straight-guy-who-won’t-brook-homophobia hero — that seems to say We’ve Come a Long Way Baby.

You don’t have to be Gay to connect with the Choir Boy story, nor Black—but if you are, this reviewer thinks Choir Boy should be THE top pick for your time.  For anyone who loves music, dance and spot-on performances, Choir Boy is a theater outing that will deeply satisfy.

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CAST:

La Shawn Banks, Sheldon D. Brown, Richard David, William Dick, Gilbert Domally, Tyler Hardwick and Samuel B. Jackson

CREATIVE TEAM:

By ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney

Directed by Kent Gash

Arnel Sancianco (Scenic Designer), Kara Harmon (Costume Designer), Jason Lynch (Lighting Designer), Pornchanok (Nok) Kanchanabanca (Sound Designer), Stan Brown (Company Voice & Text Coach), JC Clementz, CSA (Casting Director) and Laura D. Glenn (Production Stage Manager).

WHEN:

Now through July 24, 2022

WHERE:

Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater
1650 N. Halsted St.
Chicago

TICKETS:

$20+

For more information and tickets visit the Steppenwolf Theatre website.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.

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Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.

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