THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
book by David Thompson lyrics by Fred Ebb music by John Kander.
Young Vic 66 The Cut Waterloo SE1 8LZ To 21 December 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 55min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 October.
Finely-choreographed and performed political musical.
In 1931 police called to an inter-racial fight between youths onboard a train at Scottsboro, Alabama found a couple of young White women who claimed some Black youngsters had raped them. Nine men, from 13 upwards, were arrested and sentenced to hang within days. But left-wing America objected, a retrial was ordered with a more adequate defence. And matters went on for years.
John Kander, the late Fred Ebb, with David Thompson and director-choreographer Susan Stroman, tell the story using the format of a Minstrel show, a kind of cabaret with Black or blacked-up performers exaggerating Black American styles and mannerisms, once popular among White audiences.
It allows quick jumps between scenes, recurrently reverting to the minstrels’ semi-circle of chairs, which are reshaped to create different places. The comic musician stereotypes Tambo and Bones sit either end, and centrally, the one White authority figure, Julian Glover’s central Interlocutor, doubling as Judge and always keen to do the Cakewalk.
None of the Boys was executed, though many of their lives were set on self-destructive paths by wrongful arrests and years of imprisonment. The musical can’t help breaking their solidarity by spotlighting one figure, Haywood Patterson, whose prison diary was a source and who is given a moral authority which reflects Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is another significant parallel.
In moments expressing individual agonies, the attractive score can become predictable. And the Minstrel style, steeped in parody, irons-out some complexities; two White Sheriffs suffered for restraining supremacist bloodlust. But the piece finally shows how necessary it is that an oppressed group work for their own salvation.
For, when Stroman’s highly-skilled cast wipe the Minstrel Blackface make-up off their true Black faces and quietly ignore the Interlocutor’s instructions, it’s clear a new world’s moving into view. It comes with education, and the writing-down of what happened. And it culminates in the quietly devastating end, as the character first scene sitting solo, then held in reserve, takes centre-stage and, picking-up a line spoken casually in the show, hurtles events on towards a new stage in the continuing fight.
Clarence Norris/Preacher: Adebayo Bolaji.
Charles Weems/Victoria Price: Christian Dante White.
Mr Bones/Sheriff Bones/Lawyer Bones/Guard Bones/Attorney General/Clerk: Colman Domingo.
Interlocutor/Judge/Governor of Alabama: Julian Glover.
Lady: Dawn Hope.
Eugene Williams/Little George: Idriss Kargbo.
Mr Tambo/Deputy Tambo/Lawyer Tambo/Guard Tambo/Samuel Leibowitz: Forrest McClendon.
Olen Montgomery: Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton.
Roy Wright/Electrified Isaac/Billy: Clinton Roane.
Willie Robers/Electrified Charlie: Emile Ruddock.
Andy Wright: Carl Spencer.
Haywood Patterson: Kyle Scatliffe.
Ozie Powell/Ruby Bates: James T Lane.
Swings: Joshua Liburd, Jordan Shaw.
Director/Choreographer: Susan Stroman.
Designer: Beowulf Boritt.
Lighting: Ken Billington.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Orchestrator: Larry Hochman.
Musical Arranger: Glen Kelly.
Vocal Arranger: David Loud.
Musical Director: Robert Scott.
Costume: Toni-Leslie James.
Dialect coach: Emma Woodvine.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.
Associate director: Nigel West.
Assistant director: Jonathan O’Boyle.
Assistant choreographer: Eric Santagata.