'Choir Boy' review: Surprisingly conventional

From left, Jeremy Pope, Austin Pendleton, Wallace Smith,

From left, Jeremy Pope, Austin Pendleton, Wallace Smith, Grantham Coleman and Kyle Beltran in Tarell Alvin McCraney's "Choir Boy." (Credit: Joan Marcus)

Tarell Alvin McCraney, author of the remarkable "Brother/Sister Plays," has been awarded just about every prize available to gifted upcoming playwrights. But "Choir Boy," commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club for its new Stage II series, has little of his boundary-pushing sensibility or structural sense of adventure.

Five students at a black prep school are dealing with the usual coming-of-age issues, many of which center on Pharus Young, an exuberantly feminine young man and leader of the choir. Played with a career-making confidence by Jeremy Pope, Pharus butts heads with the swaggering nephew (Wallace Smith) of the headmaster (the ever-imposing Chuck Cooper). An eccentric white professor (the always-off-center and engaged Austin Pendelton) is brought in to help prepare them for college essays and, no kidding, helps bring cohesion to the choir.

The best parts are the contemporary arrangements of the spirituals, scattered throughout the 90-minute drama. The music says deeper things about harmony than does the dialogue.

WHAT "Choir Boy"

WHERE Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II, 131 W. 55th St.

INFO $30; 212-581-1212; manhattantheatreclub.com

BOTTOM LINE Conventional turn by unconventional playwright

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