The ‘Boys’ are Quite All Right

Courtesy of Henry DiRocco

Imagine that you saw one of America’s grimmest civil rights stories being retold in a comedic manner on a brightly lit stage with humorous costumes, creative set design and an extremely talented cast.

Now imagine that this story is a musical.

You have successfully pictured “The Scottsboro Boys,” a cabaret-style musical by Kander and Ebb, the famed theatrical composers who also wrote “Chicago.” This is the story of nine African-Americans who were falsely accused of sexually assaulting two white women on a train in the 1930s.

Due to the lingering effect of racism in the American South, the nine men, who became famously known as the Scottsboro Boys, earned national acclaim as products of a Jim Crow society that needed to be conquered by the egalitarian North.

However, despite the numerous trials, the Scottsboro Boys were continually tried as guilty and subsequently spent most of their lives in prison.

On stage at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre until June 3, “The Scottsboro Boys” is by far one of the best musicals I have ever had the chance to see.  Not only does it share an unfortunately obscure story of racial conflict in American history, it also explores different regional perceptions of races throughout the country.

As a theater enthusiast, I was completely enthralled with “The Scottsboro Boys” from the first song to the last curtain call.

Nominated for 14 Tony Awards in 2011, “The Scottsboro Boys” has more depth and substance than most modern musicals: it explores not only the story of the nine men, but also the changing concept of race in America.

The show is designed in a modern style, using a cast of only 13 members to play a variety of characters.  Although this constant changing of characters could seem distracting for the audience, it is actually a very ingenious manner of portraying the importance of stereotypical racial perceptions.

For example, all but one of the cast members is African-American; however, two of the African-American men play the roles of the white women, exhibiting not only feminine qualities, but also racial stereotypes of Caucasian females in order to fully portray their character change.

Content aside, the show itself is a masterpiece.  Using only nine chairs and a miniscule selection of props, the show truly relies on its message rather than its media to share the horrific experience the Scottsboro Boys endured. Without complex visuals to distract the audience, the story is clear and poignant, thus creating a theatrical experience that is so different from many modern musicals.

The ensemble is also amazing: every member is perfectly cast, and portrays their part with the perfect amount of intensity.  As mentioned before, many members are required to play numerous roles, which can often reflect the actor’s versatility. Each actor was flawless, and eases into his or her respective roles with depth, humor and character changes when appropriate.  The performance alone is a reminder of the importance of good acting.

However, “The Scottsboro Boys” is more than entertaining.  Far more important is how the show proves that the genre of the musical is not limited to mere eye- and ear-pleasers, but can be highly political and critical. The fact that this doesn’t mean sacrificing beautiful and sophisticated music and dance is a wonderful instance of the possible unity of critique and art.

I whole-heartedly recommend this show, and, if you feel like making the drive, you will not be sorry.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5