THE SCOTSBORO BOYS
music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
book by David Thompson
Garrick Theatre 2 Charing Cross Road WC2H 0HH To 21 February 2015.
Mon–Sat 7.45 pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1 hr 55 min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 9673.
Review: William Russell 22 October.
Dazzling, daring and difficult.
This hugely inventive musical enjoyed a sell-out run at the Young Vic last year. Will it enjoy similar success in the much harder climate of the West End?
It certainly is not the sort of show that coach parties, weekenders from the regions on a hotel deal and Japanese tourists, who seem to make up the bulk of the musical audience these days, are accustomed to. It ran for a mere three months on Broadway in 2010 in spite of getting umpteen Tony award nominations.
The story is about nine young black men who, hitching a ride on a freight train in Alabama in 1931, were hauled off by the local sheriff, as were two ladies of disrepute from a different part of the train. The women, to save themselves from arrest, accused the boys, whom they had never met, of rape.
The accusations were blatantly false, but the boys were found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentences were not carried out, and a series of deeply flawed trials followed. Their saga helped set the American civil right’s movement on its way.
This is not the stuff of phantom composers, magic pianos that make you dance or children wearing clothes made from curtains. But it is a potent mix. The creators – the director is Susan Stroman – have used the conventions of the old minstrel shows except that the cast is all Black, with only the interlocutor played by a white man.
Julian Glover creates a wonderfully avuncular figure who emerges as racism personified. The 11 Black actors playing the nine boys and the traditional minstrel show double-act of Mr Bones and Mr Tambo are all gifted – they play all the characters in their story – and the result is both funny and shocking as gradually the jollity of the minstrel show is stripped away and the horror of racism in the Deep South emerges. None of the boys had a happy ending to their lives. There is a brilliant coup de theatre at the end which freezes any smiles left – at the Young Vic it bowled me over completely.
It is a remarkable show which should be seen, but by the end this time I had had more than enough of the frenetic minstrel melodies which carry the story. I did not want to leave humming them but rather wanting to shut them out of my ears, which is probably the point. This is a musical to make you think.
Roy Wright/ Electrified Isaac/Bill: Joshua Da Costa.
Haywood Patterson: Brandon Victor Dixon.
Mr Bones/ Bones/Attorney/General & Clerk: Colman Domingo.
The Interlocutor/ Judge/Governor of Alabama: Julian Glover.
The Lady: Dawn Hope.
Clarence Norris/Preacher: Emmanuel Kojo.
Ozie Powell/ Ruby Bates: James T Lane.
Charles Weems/ Victoria Price: Dex Lee.
Mr Tambo: Forrest McClendon.
Eugene Williams: Keenan Munn-Francis.
Olen Montgomery: Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton.
Willie Roberson: Emille Ruddock.
Andy Wright: Carl Spencer.
Sheriff Bones/Lawyer Bones/Guard Deputy Tambo/Lawyer Tambo/ Guard Tambo & Samuel Leibowitz: Forrest McClendon.
Electrified Charlie: Emille Ruddock.
Little George: Keenan Munn-Francis.
Swing & Dance Captain: Richard Pitt.
Swing: Jacade Simpson.
Swing: Luke Wilson.
Director/Choreographer: Susan Stroman.
Designer: Beowulf Boritt.
Lighting: Ken Billington.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Musical Supervisor: Paul Masse.
Musical Director: Phil Cornwell.
Costume: Toni-Leslie Jam