The Scottsboro Boys was the brainchild of the dynamic Broadway duo, John Kander and Fred Ebb of Cabaret and Chicago fame. Just as Cabaret used a seedy nightclub to tell a story of the Holocaust and Chicago used vaudeville to depict the corrupt underbelly of the justice system, The Scottsboro Boys follows suit by portraying racism in America through a merry Minstrel Show.
This Tony-award-nominee, tells the true story of nine African American boys who were wrongfully charged with rape and falsely imprisoned back in 1931. Despite its heavy, unnerving subject matter, The Scottsboro Boys is a musical delight and one of the best shows I have seen in San Diego. In the very first number, “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey,” I was bowled over by the talent, by their voices, their charisma and their collective chemistry. I knew I was in for a memorable, foot-stompin’ experience.
As soon as the Chattanooga Line steams rolls to a close in the third song, and the claim against all nine unsuspecting Boys is made by the “Alabama Ladies,” the lightheartedness of the show takes a scissor kick to the gut. With songs like “Electric Chair” where a tap-dancing twelve-year-old faces his potential electrocution and “Nothin’,” where one of the nine realizes, “I ain’t done nothin’ but I’m goin’ to die,” the harsh reality of the story sinks in.
For the duration of the show, the Boys’ heavy plight is punctuated with plunks of the banjo, taps of the tambourine, and brilliant, satirical levity. It is genius storytelling and outstanding musicality from beginning to end.
Some of the standout performances for me included Jared Joseph as Mr. Bones, Clifton Oliver as Charles Weems, JC Montgomery as Mr. Tambo (and as the Jewish New York lawyer Samuel Liebowitz), and Clifton Duncan as Haywood Patterson (you could hear a pin drop during his closing monologue).
Side note: I practically accosted Clifton Duncan when I saw him outside the theatre so I could snag this photo. Notice my teary eyes.
I would venture to say, reluctantly so, that because of its subject matter, The Scottsboro Boys may not be for everyone, (there is a reason it closed after only six weeks on Broadway), though, given the fact that racial injustice still occurs in our country, it really should be for everyone (there is a reason it was nominated for twelve Tonys). I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I cake-walked out of the theatre and the soundtrack will be on repeat in my home for a long time to come.
Disclaimer: I was given two complimentary tickets to see this show, but the opinions expressed here are my own. I LOVED this show!