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Stage Review: The Scottsboro Boys

The Old Globe presents a controversial and moving show


Senior editor Erin Meanley loves a triple time-step more than anyone I’ve ever met, even if it’s set against the backdrop of an electric chair and a segregated South circa 1930.

Enter The Scottsboro Boys, a musical making its West Coast debut at the Old Globe. The show is heavy—heh-VEE. It tells the true story of nine black men falsely accused of raping two women in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Rape and prejudice? Not even tap dancing and jazz hands can make that funny. And it’s not supposed to be. The play, portrayed as a Vaudevillian-type minstrel show, is meant to be shocking. (The composer and lyricist team, Kander & Ebb, also did Cabaret.) The minstrel thing, I later read, was an artistic commentary on the criminal trial of these men. In other words, it was a joke. Again, not the funny kind.

But my, oh my, is that tap dancing swell. Hip, hip hooray for Susan Stroman, director and choreographer extraordinaire! Stro-Man, she knows her stuff. (Remember the woman in the yellow dress from Contact and the show-stopping numbers from The Producers? All Stroman.)

And the cast is gorgeous—strong voices, hot bodies, with emphasis on the latter. Their a cappella harmonies are chill-worthy.

Also, there is a very powerful and moving revelation in the final moments of the show. I won’t spoil it for you, but just know there’s a pay off, if you can hang in there till the end.

As an American, I walked out of the theater ashamed and embarrassed by this sad mark on our nation’s history. I had a pit in my stomach, and found myself wanting to talk about it, which is always a good sign. Because, in a time when so many of us tap dance our way through life, ignoring the issues at hand, a thought-provoking piece of art is a welcome change.   

The Scottsboro Boys
Old Globe Theatre
Through June 10
Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Book by David Thompson
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman

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