The Scottsboro Boys, with an immediately recognizable score by Kander & Ebb, written by David Thompson and precisely directed by Susan Stroman who has also supplied some incredibly crafted choreography is a daring show that dares you to be entertained while cringing at the horrors that unfold to nine young black boys falsely accused of raping two white women in 1930’s Alabama within the politically incorrect framework of a minstrel show. And yes, you will cringe yet be totally captivated, diverted and entertained by the exceptionally talented cast.
Shameful, sadistic and startling in its depiction of hate vs. truth, The Scottsboro Boys reaches Broadway from the off Broadway Vineyard Theatre where it began last year and goes way beyond – aiming straight for the jugular and then piercing our hearts with how Afro-Americans have been treated in the past and unfortunately are still privy to racial profiling today – and does so in song and dance. It’s an amazing accomplishment.
The diamond in the rough at The Vineyard (where I had some reservations) has been honed and polished so that it gleams in all its racist glory at the Lyceum where it is injustice for all those Scottsboro boys. Heart wrenching one moment and then pull-out-all-the-stops entertaining the next.
The most profound moments also happen to be the most simple as exemplified by the beautiful and haunting “Southern Days” and “Go Back Home”. Ms. Stroman has found just the right balance to make this show work that follows the heinous story of the young lads through eight trials to its bitter ending.
There are not enough superlatives to honor its cast members. What an impressive ensemble headed by the sleazy, robust Cake Walk strutting John Cullum as the Interlocutor. His cohorts in the minstrel show Mr. Bones (Colman Domingo) and Mr. Tambo (Forrest McClendon) played with exaggerated glee deliver the “schtick” without missing a laugh or a leer. Mr. McClendon also does a show stopping turn as Samuel Leibowitz – the Jew lawyer from New York who defends the group.
As Haywood Patterson who becomes their leader, standing up for his rights and the truth no matter what obstacles befall him, Joshua Henry is steadfast and strong of voice and spirit commanding the stage even while learning to write in solitary confinement. It is a masterful performance of restrained fury let loose which will move you to tears.
All of the other men: Josh Breckenridge, Derrick Cobey, Jeremy Gumbs, Rodney Hicks, Kendrick Jones, James T. Lane, Julius Thomas III and Christian Dante White represent some of the best talent on the Broadway stage today and should receive a special ensemble award for their work.
As the two white women wronged, Christian Dante White and James T. Lane are totally believable, horrible and hilarious as Victoria and Ruby with only hats to delineate the fairer sex when not being part of the jailed nine men.
Special mention must be made of Sharon Washington, the only female cast member who plays A Lady, a symbolic part of an observer. She has an incredibly strong, elegant and silent presence throughout the show which culminates in an unforgettable ending which will leave you breathless and cheering.
www.scottsboromusical.com Photo: Paul Kolnik