The Scottsboro Boys
At The Calderwood
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
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.
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.
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.
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