Photo by Don Kellogg

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys

 I've just come up with a new final exam for a musical theatre class.  Here it is:  Pitch this idea to a producer and try to get them to put it on - -  The story of 9 black boys accused of raping two white women on a railroad car in the south in 1931 presented as a musical minstrel show with the boys all being actually black with the show's white narrator telling the story to the audience while intermittently playing a character throughout throughout the entire performance.  Good luck with that one, right?!

Well this is exactly what Kandor and Ebb set out to do and despite the death of Fred Ebb before the work was completed, it has finally been given its world primere in New York City at the Vineyard Theatre. Despite the awkward premise, the show works.   It instantly feels both entertaining and uncomfortable at the same time.  It's supposed to feel that way - but never lets you get stuck being uncomfortable for too long.  Memorable numbers, inspiring ballads, rousing show numbers and talent crawling all over the stage make for an invigorating and educational night of theatre.   Stand out performances by all the boys and most of all John Cullum as the interlocutor.

This one is likely to transfer to Broadway.  The stage at the Vineyard is small - probably too small, but Susan Stroman worked her magic nonetheless.  On a larger Broadway stage, this one has great potential.   I'm not sure it will have a long lasting run, but it will certainly make a substantial contribution to the live theatre experience and enrich its audiences substantially while there.