Following in the footsteps of A Season in The Congo which recently sold out at The Young Vic with critical acclaim, The Scottsboro Boys is already racking up stellar reviews and sell out status. I was recently invited down to watch the musical; a recreation of songwriting duo (also responsible for 'Chicago' and 'Cabaret') Ebb & Kander musical by Susan Stroman.
Part of a recent wave of nods to black history- The Butler, 12 Years A Slave, Django Unchained- The Scottsboro Boys tells the true story of nine young African Americans falsely convicted of the rape of two women in 1931 Alabama. Human rights campaigners fought for over 20 years for their release in one of the longest trials ever known in its time. Only the four youngest boys were lucky enough to be released, only to end up performing in a vaudeville act in Harlem, while the others unfortunately passed away in prison. 82 years later. Only now in 2013 long after all the boys have passed, Alabama state eventually got around to pardoning them.
While the story line is tragic, serious and depressing, the risky minstrel-style musical itself is very enjoyable due to the outstanding singing and dancing by the cast. Klye Scaliffe who plays Haywood Paterson has a strong yet soft and gentle voice, singing my favourite song Southern Days. Mr Tambo and Mr Bones played by Forrest McClendon and Coloman Domingo were my personal favourites- although they are the bad guys in the play their comedic-punchy lines and dramatic stage presence made me and the whole crowd laughing our heads off. The exuberant light nature of the play contrasts starkly with the reality of the racial prejudice of the time, including a nod to Rosa Parks iconic defiance on a bus.
During its short stint on Broadway the musical managed to win over the critics resulting in 12 Tony award nominations yet failed to win over the box office due to the controversy around the minstrel format of the show. My feeling from watching the show was that rather than sugar coating or celebrating this type of entertainment, the minstrel format is used to provoke and confront the racist systems of the time.
Provocative, uncomfortable and highly entertaining. See for yourself in the video below of a few scenes from the show.
The Scottsboro Boys is showing at the Young Vic from 18th October-21st December, so I would beg, steal or borrow a ticket before the show ends.
For more information click here.
Author: Alae Ismail, Co-Founder of SBA
Photographer: Richard Hubert Smith