Dedicated to writing for the underdog, Kander and Ebb have dealt with the rise of Nazism (Cabaret), and the corrupt criminal justice system of 1920s (Chicago). Now they are deploying the controversial device of a deconstructed Black and White Minstrel Show to expose the ugly truths of racial prejudice.
The Scottsboro Boys tells the story of nine black teenagers, aged between 12 and 19, wrongly accused of raping two white girls in Alabama in 1931. Their trials made US history and are still very much in the news: an historic piece of legislation posthumously exonerating the convicted youths was passed earlier this year. They are cited as an influence on Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
The 2010 Broadway version was subject to protests by members of The Freedom Party, a black and Latino political group, who misconstrued it as racist. Despite rave reviews and 12 Tony Awards nominations, it closed after a couple of months. But the British production, using many of the Broadway cast, enjoyed a dazzling successful sell-out run, showing that, though controversial, the show is still captivating.
The contrast between up tempo songs and tragic subject matter leaves the audience unsure whether to cry or dance in the aisles. Subversion is the order of the day, as lyrical ballads and energetic tap routines convey despair without ever renouncing a glimmer of hope, showing us the humanity behind this famous miscarriage of justice. The show also contains some of the best clown work seen on stage in years.
The cast comprises a mixture of British and American talents, some reprising roles from the first run, some new faces. Tony Nominated Brandon Victor Dixon was part of the original Broadway cast and this role in the revival will be his West End debut, and Colman Domingo, who won an Olivier for his role in the Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic, will reprise his role as Mr Bones.
This isn’t a show that is easy to watch, but it is absolutely not to be missed.
Culture Whisper Review: The Scottsboro Boys, Garrick Theatre
Every bit as stunning as the hype suggests, Scottsboro Boys is also even more unsettling and shocking that even the hard-hitting subject would imply. While a rudimentary glance at a blurb should prepare you for a story centred around race, rape and injustice, it is the startling innovation with which it's told that at once compels and repels. With electrifying energy the ensemble cast ensure Cander and Ebb's daring minstrel show format is not just poignantly thought-provoking, but also captivating entertainment. And it is this combination of exuberance and atrocity that makes the show so disquieting.
Taut and slick, the story grips you between heartbreak and hope, and is buoyed by a stellar songbook and the best clowning we've seen on the London stage. With some of the most challenging viewing including an uncomfortably charming electric chair tap-dance, it's certainly not to everyone's taste (indeed there were a few people who left during the show). But it's not distasteful or offensive gratuitously; this is a bitter, brutal story brought to life with intelligence, insight and pathos.Scottsboro Boys will stick with you long after the final curtain.
|What||The Scottsboro Boys, Garrick Theatre|
|Where||Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0HH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
04 Oct 14 – 21 Feb 15, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to book via the Nimax Theatres|