THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS at Signature Theatre - A Stunning Production
There were two electrifying performances at the Signature Theatre on Thursday night, May 31, 2018. One was outside (an amazing thunderstorm) and one was inside that featured an amazing cast.
Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer should be applauded for bringing THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS to the Baltimore/Washington area. This true story told "Minstrel" style about one of the most tragic stories in U.S. history is must see theater. It is not easy to watch. In fact, it only lasted 49 performances on Broadway and yet garnered 12 Tony nominations including Best Musical in 2011 but did not win one.
Joe Calarco direct this epic story and has done wonders in telling this tale about nine black teenagers (aged 12 to 19) who were arrested in 1931 while on a box car in Alabama accused of raping two white teenagers (disguised as boys) who were hoboing on a freight train from Chattanooga through Alabama on its way to Memphis.
Who were these boys? There was Olen Montgomery (Joseph Monroe Webb, 17), who dropped out of school in the fifth grade to help his mother work. He was blind in one eye and on his way to Memphis to buy glasses. Clarence Norris (Darrell Purcell, Jr. 19), the son of sharecroppers and a former slave was on his way to visit his aunt for a job. Haywood Patterson (Lamont Walker II, 18) left home at 14 and used freight trains from Ohio to Florida and was on his way for a job as a steel worker. Ozie Powell, (DeWitt Fleming, Jr., 15) had one year of school, could only write his name and was looking for work in Memphis. Willie Roberson (Scean Aaron at this performance, 15) raised by his grandmother suffered from asthma as well as a severe case of syphilis and gonorrhea and used a cane. Charles Weems (Malik Akil, 19) after his father became sick worked in a pharmacy and was on his way see family in Tennessee. Eugene Williams (Aramie Payton, 13) worked as a dishwasher in Chattanooga. Andy Wright, Jonathan Adriel, 19) and his brother Roy, C.K. Edwards, 12) did not tell their mother where they were going as they set off for Memphis for work. (This information was garnered by a newspaper insert in the program which included photos and excellent information about the true story.)
These were the Scottsboro boys. I thought it was important to mention each of the boy's backgrounds to appreciate what these teenagers were about to undergo.
While to story of Rosa Parks and her refusal to move to the back of the bus based on being black is common knowledge (there is a short homage to this in the play), this story probably is not found in many history books. And what a story it is. How these teenagers escaped lynch mobs, six trials, two Supreme Court decisions for a crime they did not commit and while one of the two subjects of the rape recanted her testimony.
What makes this musical so special is the way it is presented. Kander and Ebb have used the "minstrel" style of music. This was begun in the 19th century when whites performed on stage in blackface. Here the style of dance and music is utilized but the actors are ALL black and male. Wormley and Coffin portray the white prosecutors, sheriffs and the Jewish defense lawyer (Samuel Leibowitz) who offered his services for free.
Playing the two females convincingly who alleged the rape are Akil and Fleming Jr.
The only white performer is the amazing Christopher Bloch who plays the narrator and Interlocutor.
Felicia Curry, the only authentic female, sits in the front row of seats (in front of the audience) as an observer.
The actors give riveting performances through their amazing dancing (including great tap) and singing.
The clever and utilitarian set by Daniel Conway uses a rotating archway to great effect.
Kudos to Conductor Brian P. Whitted and his seven piece band located above the set.
Director Joe Calarco has done a masterful job pulling this all together and is responsible for the update at the end of the show to make it current.
There are discussion nights June 13 and 19.
The Signature has announced that their play GIRLFRIEND has been extended by high demand and has extended 6 performances between June 12 and June 17.
Upcoming at Signature...Sizzlin' Summer Nights Cabaret Series July 19 to August 4. Performing their solo concerts will be Noya Payton, Mark G. Meadows and Erin Driscoll.
Don't miss the Signature Free Open House on August 5 from noon to 8:30 p.m.. There will be free performances every fifteen minutes, special ticket offers, raffles, and a grand finale concert.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS (two hours without an intermission) continues until July 1, 2018. For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.