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Review Roundup: THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS in the West End


THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is currently playing in the West End at the Garrick Theatre.

The cast of The Scottsboro Boys includes Joshua Da Costa, Brandon Victor Dixon, Colman Domingo, Julian Glover, Dawn Hope, Emmanuel Kojo, James T. Lane, Dex Lee, Forrest McClendon, Kennan Munn-Francis, Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton, Emile Ruddock, Carl Spencer, Richard Pitt, Jacade Simpson, Luke Wilson, Marcia Lecky, and Andrew McDonald.

The creative team for The Scottsboro Boys includes John Kander and Fred Ebb (Music and Lyrics), David Thompson (Book), Susan Stroman (Direction and Choreography), Beowulf Boritt (Set Design), Toni-Leslie James (Costume Design), Ken Billington (Lighting Design), and Paul Arditti (Sound Design).

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS tells the true story of nine young black men, aged between 12 and 19, travelling on a train through Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931 in search of a new life. By the end of their journey, their lives had been changed forever.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Carrie Dunn, BroadwayWorld: One thing that isn't in dispute when it comes to this transfer of The Scottsboro Boys is the quality of the performances. A stunning cast of triple-threats are impressive from the off; and the direction and choreography of Susan Stroman is beautiful. The balance between entertainment and utter grim horror, however, is an uneasy one. This is, of course, what the cast and creators intend; as we watch the unfolding of the failures of an institutionally racist justice system, incarcerating nine young men, we find ourselves laughing at some humour, thrilling to tap dance routines, admiring the harmonies - and then pull ourselves up short at the incongruity of finding enjoyment in such a tale. At least, that's the plan. Unfortunately I'm not sure that it always happens...Perhaps the 'reality' of the Scottsboro story is simply too much to handle.

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian: Susan Stroman's production -- cleverly and simply designed by Beowulf Boritt -- mines the dark, brutal humour to an entirely merited and an almost uncomfortably provocative degree. The choreography is often electrifying, particularly in a brilliantly nightmarish tap-dancing sequence featuring an electric chair. This is a show that boasts a brilliant ensemble, but Brandon Victor Dixon shines particularly as Hayward Patterson, a man who refuses to sacrifice the truth for parole...But this is a genuinely radical musical, full of stinging indignation and plaintive power, which reminds of the cost to individuals of the civil rights movement that had to fight so hard to bring about the end of racial segregation in the US.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: This transfer has the feel of a milestone about it: a recognition that an intelligent musical about a notorious episode of American racial injustice has a place in our theatrical culture. My reservations, at least my inhibition, have much to do with the way the show is engineered. It's built on provocation and paradox to the extent that an easy response -- particularly in a white audience-member -- is something problematic...Every muscular, choreographed move made by the predominantly black cast has an air of subversion. The smiles beamed our way are exaggerated, a parody of subservience...For every high experienced, there's an equal and opposite prickle of shame. So, yes, do rush to see this ingenious, pain-filled, feel-good show but be prepared to be ambushed by ambivalence. You may be torn between wanting to clap and beat yourself up.

Sam Marlowe, The Times: This is a hurtling journey into hell; I urge you to buy a ticket. John Kander and Fred Ebb's 2010 musical, seen at the Young Vic last year, is a shocking experience -- the more so because it is also irresistibly entertaining. The score is stuffed with infectious ragtime tunes -- you would leave the theatre humming them if you weren't choking back tears. Susan Stroman's production and choreography are incandescent with energy and invention, and the company deliver performances of gut-punching power.

Laura Barnett, Time Out London: To those unfamiliar with minstrelsy, its lexicon is tricky to comprehend: every gesture is exaggerated, every action commanded by a white Interlocutor (Julian Glover). 'The Scottsboro Boys' is not an easy watch, but then neither should it be -- and a number of quieter, more emotive musical numbers work to leaven the tone. Arguably we should learn more about the men's individual stories: only a couple of them, including the dignified, John Proctor-like Haywood Patterson (the astonishingly good Brandon Victor Dixon), really assume three dimensions. But this beautifully-performed, thoughtfully-staged show remains a triumph -- not only in keeping alive the memory of a terrible miscarriage of justice, but in taking minstrelsy as a cultural form, and turning it definitively on its head.

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: The Scottsboro Boys has already wowed New York audiences and did the same here last year during its debut run at the Young Vic. This West End transfer of Susan Stroman's accomplished production is richly deserved and it is only to be hoped that such intelligent, determinedly downbeat fare doesn't struggle in a commercial climate...It perplexed me last year and it does again this that a show which rails against people being lumped together in broad categories doesn't allow us to get to know the protagonists as individuals. The nine remain a frustratingly amorphous crew, although their de facto leader is Hayward Patterson (Brandon Victor Dixon, soulful), who stubbornly refuses to bow to the demands of the prison system. The music is magnificent, a stirring, period-specific mixture of gospel, jazz and vaudeville.

Catherine Love, WhatsOnStage: Rarely do form and content dance such an intimate, dangerous tango as in The Scottsboro Boys...In Susan Stroman's production, this unsavoury relic of racial bigotry in the United States is turned strikingly on its head...Staged inside the lightbulb-studded frames of Beowulf Boritt's design and the additional, slanted frame of the minstrel show, Stroman's production manages to be at once fierce, bold and relentlessly entertaining. This is anger with a smile plastered on. The same fury that simmers beneath Kander and Ebb's score glints through the grimaces of the uniformly excellent cast, who inject the piece with both the energy and the ire that it demands, slamming down chairs and stamping their feet with barely suppressed rage.

Sarah Hemming, Financial Times: We do it with food, why not on the stage? The combination of conflicting tastes or styles can be immensely powerful -- and so it proves with The Scottsboro Boys, a grim story packaged by John Kander, Fred Ebb and David Thompson into a jaunty musical framework...In Susan Stroman's dazzlingly delivered staging...the impact is both elating and shocking...Audacious and troubling, it is delivered with brilliant precision here. Tap-dancing through a number about the electric chair, harmonising in a spiritual that slips in a line about lynching, the cast perform with tremendous verve and handle Stroman's choreography with split-second timing. But they also zip from ensemble to individuals, as they trace the separate tragedies of each young man. Friction -- between truth and justice, between story and style -- runs through the show.

Photo Credit: Roy Tan

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