Directed by Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo
Musical Direction by Allen Rene Louis.
Choreographed by Tarik Frimpong – Costume design by Rita Naidu
Lighting design by Karen Norris – Sound design by Brendon Boney
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse. March 29 – April 2 2023
Opening night performance on March 29 reviewed by BILL STEPHENS
|Darron Hayes (Pharus Young) (c) and the cast of "Choir Boy"
This first Australian production by Riverside’s National Theatre of
Parramatta premiered in the Riverside Theatre in February to co-incide with the
Sydney world pride celebrations in Sydney, prior to touring to Brisbane,
Wollongong and Canberra.
A coming-of-age story the play focusses on a talented young person of
colour who fights for acceptance on his own terms. The play touches on matters
of race, sexuality, and racial history, and, except for one role, is performed
by an all-black cast.
Certainly one of the main attractions of the play was the opportunity
it offered to hear a series of superbly sung gospel songs which are sprinkled throughout
|Darron Hayes as Pharus in "Choir Boy".
Set in the fictitious (presumably all-black) Charles R. Drew Prep
School for Boys, sweet-voiced Pharus is determined to be the best choir leader
in the school’s 50-year history. His ambitions are thwarted and challenged by one
of his peers, the headmaster’s nephew, Bobby (Zarif), who attempts to sabotage him,
both in performance and in class, by taunting him with snide sexist slurs.
While still coming to terms with aspects of his sexuality, Pharus is proud of his queerness, and questions the headmaster’s reluctance to allow Bobby’s remarks to go unchecked
|Robert Harrell (Headmaster Marrow) - Darron Hayes (Pharus)
His opportunity to fight this battle comes with Headmaster’s decision to employ a retired teacher, Mr Pendleton (Tony Sheldon) who encourages his students to broaden their thinking. This leads to a bitter confrontation between Pharus and Bobby during which Pharus launches into a long monologue to argue a thesis about Gospel songs being used as “code” by negro slaves.
Much of this monologue, and indeed others that followed, was largely
unintelligible to the untuned ear due to the various accents of the actors, and
the heightened style of acting which featured a great deal of explosive
reactions, shouting and gesticulating.
Darron Hayes is magnetic in the central role of Pharus Young, a role
he’s performed previously in America. An animated actor with an angelic singing
voice, his performance is both passionate and moving. Hayes is given strong
support by the rest of the cast which includes Zarif, who plays the Bobby, Theo Williams as
the quiet giant, David, and Quinton Rofail Rich as AJ., Gareth Outlow as
Junior, and Tawanda Muzenda.
Robert Harrell brought a quiet dignity to the role of Headmaster
Marrow, while Australian theatre legend, Tony Sheldon, the only white actor in
the cast, delighted with his marvellously idiosyncratic cameo as Mr. Pendleton.
|Tony Sheldon as Mr. Pendleton
Despite an unexplained 20 minute delay in commencing the performance on
opening night, which must have been as unsettling for the actors as it was for
the audience, this tightly directed production of “Choir Boy”, was particularly
notable for its superb ensemble singing and inventive, well-drilled
choreography. It received an enthusiastic reception from the appreciative first
Images: Phil Erbacher
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au