Understanding the Music Behind Broadway’s Choir Boy
Jeremy Pope, Caleb Eberhardt, and the cast of the Tarell Alvin McCraney play recall the church songs that impacted their lives.
Broadway’s Choir Boy contains more music than most plays. But Oscar winner and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney uses music—some written by Jason Michael Webb and Fitz Patton and some arranged by Webb—as a framing device.
With traditional spirituals and church hymns, the play showcases the integral space music holds in African-American culture.
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Directed by Trip Cullman with choreography by Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy follows the students at Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, an institution committed to building "strong, ethical black men.” One student has been waiting for his senior year when he can finally lead the school’s prestigious choir, but not everyone feels he’s the appropriate choice because of his sexuality. A story about self-discovery and identity, music becomes instrumental in the coming-of-age of these young men.
Playbill asked the young cast of Choir Boy about their own memories growing up in choir and the songs from their childhoods that still resonate with them today.
“Singing in a choir in this show feels very familiar,” said Nicholas L. Ashe, who plays Junior Davis. “I think the only thing that's different and what Tarell has done so beautifully is draw the line with how these songs were used then as Negro spirituals when they were originally written versus how we can repurpose them to inform our everyday lives in 2018. I think audiences will be riveted by that line.”
Hear more from the cast, including Jeremy Pope, Caleb Eberhardt, Daniel Bellomy, John Clay III, Gerald Caesar, Marcus Gladney, and Jonathan Burke in the video above.
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Choir Boy plays at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 W 47th Street between Broadway & Eighth Avenues) in a limited engagement run through March 10, 2019.