Broadway has seen its fair share of heartbreaking love songs, the ones that leave audiences torn between risking it all and giving up on love. Tarell Alvin McCraney, the co-writer of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, joins the tradition with his musical Choir Boy and its number “Love Ballad.”
In the show, high schooler David chooses “Love Ballad” (originally by Jeffrey Osborne of L.T.D.) as a song from his childhood to sing to his class. But it’s more than just homework — this performance is how David plans to express his love for choir lead, Pharus (Jeremy Pope). As he practices, he imagines singing it to Pharus in an a cappella rendition, backed by his fellow choir boys wearing sequined jackets in a very dreamy sequence. Imagination ends up being the closest he’ll ever get to confessing his feelings. In Choir Boy, “Love Ballad” turns into a black, gay “On My Own” from Les Misérables. Our two romantic leads just can’t be together. But what makes the 1976 slow jam perfect for a 2019 story of two black boys navigating love?
“The main lyric you should listen out for is ‘What we have is much more than they can see,’” Caleb Eberhardt, who is making his Broadway debut as David, explained to Vulture. “There’s a perception of what our relationship might be and to those who know about [David and Pharus’s secret romance] and to those who don’t know about it, it just means that something between us is deeper than what is perceived by everyone around us.”
“Love Ballad” allows David to open up, but when things go wrong, it sets off the climactic third act.
Choir Boy is on Broadway now, but, fair warning, it may cause you to tear up every time you hear Jeffrey Osborne sing that opening “I …”