Tag Archives: SpeakEasy Production Company

Uncomfortable and Very Good

The Scottsboro Boys

At The Calderwood

SpeakEasy Productions

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The SpeakEasy Stage’s production is as good a one as you will see.

The Scottsboro Boys was John Kander and Fred Ebb’s final collaboration. Mr. Ebb passed away in 2004 and Mr. Kander finished the play on his own. It debuted in 2010. It is a musical about nine young black men, actually boys (the youngest was only thirteen), who, in 1936, were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama. It is a tragic and heart wrenching story about a terrible miscarriage of justice and racism.

While the original production received 12 Tony Award nominations, it was greeted with mixed reviews and some protests when it appeared on Broadway.

Wakeem Jones and De'Lon Grant Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Wakeem Jones and De’Lon Grant
Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The SpeakEasy Stage’s production is as good a one as you will see. Staging a musical such as this that deals with a true story that is sure to make an audience very uncomfortable has to be difficult; however, everything about Paul Daigneault’s direction is excellent. The sets, the music, the lighting. And that is just what can make this awkward for the audience. A lively musical with many one liners that stings.

Kander and Ebb set this as a minstrel show with some of the roles reversed. You will see such mainstay minstrel characters as Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones, only in this case they are black men playing grotesque and exaggerated depictions of white characters. Makes you see things from a bit different perspective to say the least.

At no time during the play do you lose sight of the tragic injustice that is taking place.

Yes, this is a musical, and a lively one too with many great tunes and lively dance numbers. This can also lead to much discomfit. I asked some of the cast members after the show if different audiences react in different ways (at the performance I attended most applauded after each number, though I felt it inappropriate to do so.). They told me that some remain silent until the end and applaud when the play is over. At other times they can feel a hesitation before getting a response. This all makes sense in a show such as this where the music is very good and the performers excellent. However, you don’t exactly want to walk out of the theatre humming Electric Chair or Minstrel March. At no time during the play do you lose sight of the tragic injustice that is taking place, and that took place not very far in our past. The solid cast never allows that to happen. All the players are deeply vested in their characters and it shows.

Darrell Morris Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds (Photo Credit:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)
Darrell Morris Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds (Photo Credit:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

Don’t let any of this dissuade you from seeing this fine cast perform on the stage of the Calderwood Pavillon. As usual, the SpeakEasy has assembled a very talented cast that does not disappoint. This is a rare opportunity to see Kander and Ebb’s final work, and we are lucky to have the SpeakEasy that does not shy away from such productions.

Due to popular demand, performances have been extended through November 26.

617.933.8600 At The Calderwood Pavillon, 527 Tremont Street, Boston’s South End

A Beautiful Violet Grows At The SpeakEasy


“Violet” At The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

My review of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Violet” could be summed up in just three words: See this play.

Flick, Violet, and Monty
Flick, Violet, and Monty

Violet, which premiered off Broadway in 1997 originally got mixed reviews, but fortunately survived and went on to play Broadway. This Boston run is being directed by Paul Daigneault who is taking it on for the second time, it played the SpeakEasy in 2000, and he has done a masterful job. Along with a remarkable score composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Brian Crawley and a first rate cast led by Alison McCartan who’s Violet is near perfect.

Violet and Young Violet
Violet and Young Violet

Set in 1964, it is the story of Violet, a young woman who has a severe facial scar that resulted from a tragic accident when she was a child. She has gathered together enough money to take a bus trip from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma where she believes a faith healer can remove her scar and the emotional pain that goes with it.

Along the way she befriends a number of people including two soldiers, Flick and Monty, who both come to care for her very much. There are also scenes that occur during the performance of the young Violet, played with amazing depth by Audree Hedequist, and her father played by Michael Mendiola in a role filled with emotion that seems made to order for him. The two are beautiful to watch together and give the audience insight into how Violet’s strength was developed.

It would have been so easy for this play to have fallen into the story of a bitter young woman who is mad at the world for the bad hand she has been dealt, and the people who look at her and feel pity for her, but that is not how it goes.

Adult Violet & Father
Adult Violet & Father

Violet is tough and smart. Yes, she is angry and hurt, but at no time did I feel pity for her. I was sympathetic towards her, but I also recognized the amazing strength of her character. Flick does as well. Her father did a remarkable job giving her the tools to enable her to deal with life, which is conveyed in the number “Luck of the Draw”. The people Violet encounters on her trip learn as much from her as she does from them.

The musical score is breathtaking covering many genres including gospel, folk, rock, and country. It is hard to believe one composer could master so many different types of music. While all the numbers are outstanding I do have to make mention of “Let It Sing” performed by Dan Belnavis as Flick. His incredible voice fills the theater with emotion.

John King as Preacher
John King as Preacher

I would also note that the scenes with the faith healing preacher are played just right by John F. King who did not slip into parody, which would have been easy to do, but instead showed the human qualities of the man without diminishing him. It was not easy to do, but Mr. King got it right.

Again, see this play, you will not be disappointed. Violet will move you, touch you, and make you want to Let It Sing! What you see and hear will stay with you long after you experience this amazing production. Theatre is alive and well in Boston thanks to the SpeakEasy Production Company.

Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Violet, playing through February 6th at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston.617.933.8600