Leave it to Kander and Ebb to create The Scottsboro Boys, a monstrously humane musical in the guise of a minstrel show. After all, it's what they are most famous for: taking headline news - the darker, the better - and turning it upside down inside out it with an unexpectedly entertaining structure. Chicago, which glorifies the popular side of crime, is the best example, which when first presented in the mid 70s, was way ahead of its time. It didn't click and win its rightful due until the 90s; the same may happen with ... Boys. Nominated in 2011 for 12 Tony Awards, it had closed on Broadway in December 2010 after only 49 performances, and won no Tonys. It did win a Drama Desk for Fred Ebb's lyrics in its prior off-Broadway run. Despite a limited Broadway run, its value as great theatre cannot be denied. It offers rich historical significance with an earnest, heartfelt book by David Thompson and a beautifully versatile musical score by Kander and Ebb, all of which make it worth standing the test of time. Now in a sterling production at The Old Globe in San Diego, directed by prolific director/choreographer Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys will hopefully work its way back to Broadway and beyond, touching the lives of most who connect to it.
Long before Rosa Parks justifiably stood up for her rights as a citizen, in 1931 nine teenagers from Alabama were wrongly accused of rape, emprisoned, tried and retried in a court of law, wasting taxpayers money, proving just how inadequate our system of justice really is. "Just us" spoken by one of the minstrel clowns, could not describe it any better. David Thompson's book presents the case through a minstrel show, which was the black man's entertainment at the time, and by allowing the men to play white characters as well as black, it shows the foolish actions of the whites as seen through the eyes of the black man, and as such proves a double-edged sword. Its done their way, and the white audience, without realizing it, ends up laughing at their own actions, seeing the desperate need for change. Kander and Ebb not only write great musical material - "Go Back Home" is still hauntingly replaying itself in my mind - but manage to dig to the very core of the piece's social relevance, and like Shakespeare and all great theatrical experiences, make the entire show simultaneously entertaining and enlightening.
The Scottsboro Boys will hopefully wend its way back to Broadway after this tour and play out the long-term engagement it deserves, reminding us all that this period of our history cannot, must not be overlooked. As a musical, it has it all: great book, great music, sensational cast and director/choreographer. This is theatre you cannot afford to miss!