diaTribe Review: "Scottsboro Boys" at the Guthrie is Tortured Brilliance

“Write it all down,” says Roy Wright, one of the jailed Scottsboro boys first freed by New York Jewish Attorney Samuel Leibowitz, in the premiere of Kander and Ebb’s bold new musical “The Scottsboro Boys” at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater. “Why?” bitterly remarks Haywood Patterson, one of those left behind to rot in jail. “Who’s going to learn from it?”
We will and we shall.
Go see the “Scottsboro Boys” at the Guthrie because it forces us to relive a tortured part of American history – the 1930s’ imprisonment and almost capital murder of nine innocent African-American boys accused of raping two white women.  Go see the “Scottsboro Boys” because you loved “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” Kander and Ebb‘s previous rockstar musicals, or because it was directed and choreographed by the award-winning Susan Stroman (all MOTs, by the way).
But most importantly, go see “Scottsboro Boys” at the Guthrie because you have never seen a piece of theater like this, at the Guthrie, or anywhere else, and you may never again.
Because “the Scottsboro Boys” will make you sob and laugh and feel uncomfortable.
Because the music is haunting and jazzy and beautiful – a blend of Cabaret, the movie Newsies, and college a capella.
Because the depth of the acting – especially that by Joshua Henry (Haywood Patterson) and Forrest McClendon (Mr. Tambo/Deputy Tambo/Lawyer Tambo/Guard Tambo/Samuel Leibowitz) – will blow you away.
Because the audience will give the cast a standing ovation each night.
Because you will never be the same.
This play is about justice – about the kind of justice we promise, and that we deliver. If you read the history of the Scottsboro Boys, there are no surprises in the content of the show – just its delivery. Kander and Ebb rightfully do not spin the truth. There was no justice here. Not justice in the sense of making things right. There’s no happy ending, except in the knowledge that the Civil Rights Movement was born there. On the steps of those Alabama courthouses.
Scottsboro Boys” does not have the catchy songs or a love story underneath that may be required for this musical to last throughout the ages. But it doesn’t need to be another “Joseph” or even “Les Mis” for that matter. After its run at the Guthrie, “Scottsboro Boys” is heading to Broadway, and whether it lasts two years or 20, it will have made its mark.
There is no need to do homework and read up on the story before the performance, although a peak at the Guthrie’s program section on “Minstrels” will help you make sense of the musical and theatrical style of the show. If you’re a lawyer, I recommend reading more about the path-breaking legal cases that shaped the lives of the Scottsboro Boys. Kander and Ebb gloss over those trials a bit (and probably rightfully so – no one really likes the nitty gritty of cases except for those of us actually in the legal profession).
Whether you remember the story of the Scottsboro Boys from the news broadcasts of your childhood or from your seventh grade history class; or even if this terrible chapter of American history  is shockingly new to you, this show will ensure you never forget.
See “The Scottsboro Boys” at the Guthrie Theater August 6 – September 25th. Call the Guthrie Box office at 612-377-2224 with the TC Jewfolk discount code – A95 – to get $10 off to these select performances: 8/24 at 7:30 p.m; 8/25 at 7:30 p.m; 8/28 at 1 p.m.; or 8/29 at 1 p.m. Or join the Guthrie for the Scottsboro Cookout for the 8/11 or 8/18 performances: your $35 ticket gets you a ticket to the pre-show cookout at aLoft Mpls, and one ticket to the show. For more information, call the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224 and ask for the “BBQ” special.

Watch Clips from the Guthrie Theater’s “Scottsboro Boys” on Youtube:


*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two tickets to “Scottsboro Boys” for free in the hope that I would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that I was obligated to give a glowing review. I wouldn’t recommend anything that I don’t think you’d enjoy. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…