The Scottsboro Boys

I’ve been seeing an awful lot of shows lately that I can’t quite decide how I feel about.  The Scottsboro Boys is another one of those tricky creations.

The subject matter is much heavier than your typical Broadway musical.  The play begins in the Spring of 1931 when nine African American boys – ages 13 – 19 – were falsely accused and arrested for raping two white women and follows the course of their multiple trials and eventually their deaths…all sandwiched between big, beautiful musical numbers.

I spent the first ten minutes trying to wrap my brain around what was happening on the stage below me.  Maybe it’s just my southern upbringing, but I always have these huge gut crushing reactions to anything that might seem even slightly dismissive of the civil rights movement or glorifying of slavery.  I imagine it’s much like a German citizen being afraid to voice their love of their country for fear it would be taken as an endorsement of Hitler.  How do you marry your fierce love of your home with it’s horrible past?

Because those reactions were so visceral and immediate, I found I had to coach myself through the beginning of the show, reminding myself that the creators were intentionally playing on those types of reactions to drive home their message, furthering the racial stereotypes and blind bigotry of the tale by utilizing the minstrel fashion to tell the story.  Despite all my rationalizing, I still found myself holding my breath when the cast took the stage for the finale in blackface.

As the lights of the house came up, the woman next to me leaned in and asked, “Did you enjoy the show?” beaming from ear to ear.  I’m pretty sure I nodded in the affirmative, but I don’t think “enjoy” is the word I would use.  I “enjoy” spending cold, rainy days hiding underneath a down comforter.  I “enjoy” swimming in a lake the temperature of bath water.  I “enjoy” the Twilight series.  I don’t “enjoy” watching the lives of nine innocent men destroyed and being reminded of the injustices we are capable of inflicting on our fellow men.

And yet, the production was beautifully done.  The cast was exquisitely talented and in the case of Joshua Henry (the actor that played Haywood Patterson) handsome enough to cause spontaneous licking.  The music was strong and memorable.  Then again, I’m always a sucker for intricate harmonies.

There’s ample comic relief, if you can let yourself embrace the racially charged jokes.  So while I’m not going to bill it as the feel good musical of the year, it’s a powerful piece of theater that still has me thinking.  Here in the liberal NYC area, it’s easy to become complacent and forget how many people still struggle for their basic civil rights.  I’ll be thinking of those Scottsboro Boys when I hit the poles polls today.

If you’d like to see a video from opening night for the show, click here.


      1. I suppose that sounded a little prurient (as my lady can attest, this is my word of the week) and I knew that when I wrote it and I consciously chose to leave it. Without a “like” button it’s hard to tell somebody you like their post without sounding like a critic. You feel like you have to add to something that just stands alone. Your review/reaction to The Scottsboro Boys was “insightful,” “thoughtful,” “breathtaking,” “daring,” a “brutal gorefest of action and suspsense.” It was insightful anyway. Yes, sometimes it’s good to experience difficult art and you said that well. That’s what I wanted to say.

  1. I think subject-matter like that should always make people feel uncomfortable, no matter where they’re from.

    And it’s good to hear of a new Broadway musical that’s not some rehash of a Disney movie.

  2. Being from Texas, I’d feel the same way. I feel like I would have been wincing through the whole thing and I can’t for the life of me figure out how they made it a musical!

  3. I’m certain that the people of Poland will forgive you for your unprovoked violence against their populace. They’re very nice people in that way.

  4. Oh man, you had to go and make a serious, and coherent post didn’t you? Now how am I going to work in some snarky comment, or reference to shellfish? You know, you really ought to post a warning label on these posts to let the reader know not to expect any vagina jokes.

  5. *cough* brineshrimp *cough
    Sadly this type of post just shines the spotlight on my relative lack of talent in both the full entry and comment departments.
    Ignorance really IS a hurdle sometimes.
    Since this show dealt with sensitive subject matter I would probably have been feeling all sorts of latent guilt and discomfort.
    It’s a byproduct of Catholic School.

  6. I don’t know if you’re supposed to enjoy these types of shows. Appreciate the art or acting yes, but enjoy not really. I do think the great contribution of art in general is to open our eyes to not just the beauty of the world but also the darkness. In a Disneyfied world I think we need to be reminded of our inhumanity to try and avoid repeating our mistakes. I think it’s particularly important to remind people that injustices like these weren’t that long ago.

    Damn that all went way to serious. Will now take myself out back and entertain my dogs with inappropriate jokes about genitalia. See what happens when you don’t add in a vagina joke or two. Sheesh.

  7. I miss good theater that makes you think. They just did “Angels in America” here. Yeah, cause it’s 1992.

    Have you seen “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” yet? I went to college with one of the cast.

    1. *swoon*

      BBAJ is on the top of my Must See list. I’m foaming at the mouth but I don’t know anyone on the show! I’m going to have to suck it up and buy tickets! THE HORROR!

  8. GREAT review. I used to work at the Virginia Stage Company and I know exactly what you mean. Do you ENJOY some of the things that are put on? Not really… you enjoy the experience, but not the topic. Very well put!

  9. Sometimes I wonder whether such discomfort does not play a part in some people’s desire for the “good old days” when they didn’t have to be confronted/reminded and could go about life being oblivious.

    I am amazed by the creator/producer’s courage in treating such a sad and serious subject in this unusual fashion. I wonder what the critics (not the theatre kind but the social/cultural/political kind) are saying.

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