“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…
Among the best theater I have ever seen. I saw the production tonight and came home to make a donation to the Innocence Project (not mentioned once in the play, but I can’t imagine how a person could leave the theater and not do something). The story is breathtakingly told, the performances are stunning, and I’m working on how I’m going to see it again – maybe on Broadway. I can’t possibly be the only tcjewfolk person who has seen it. What did others think? I was conflicted about the New York attorney, Sam Leibowitz. He made (in real life, as in the show) choices I find offensive, but on the other hand, he stuck with it a lot longer that I probably would have – if I’m being honest with myself. If bad things happen if you lie – then is dying in prison after 21 years good? Or is it just that when nothing good is going to happen whether you lie or tell the truth, you might as well be truthful? And who is in jail right now, or detention, or waiting to be deported, or . . .
These are the things that will keep me up tonight.
The show was brilliant. I’d been looking forward to seeing it for a long time and it was everything I had hoped for. I’ll agree, I left without any specific songs that kept running through my head, but genuinely happy the show was made.
This is a production that is extremely candid and extremely uncomfortable at different points. However, similar to other Kander and Ebb shows, by using the framework of a Minstrel show, they are able to say things and portray attitudes that would be hard to do justice to in a “typical” theatre setting.
I know many people who have seen this and are seeing it again. I have no question that I’ll make it there once or twice more in the coming weeks…
Agreed–the show was absolutely phenomenal. I knew very little about the show going in, but have done further research into it since.
As others have said, there aren’t songs that necessarily stayed with me after I left the theater and it definitely has some very uncomfortable moments, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it left me wanting to learn more and to think about the moral dilemmas presented in the show (which Amy’s comment covers very well). The question of telling the truth vs. being freed to live a life for one’s self is incredibly challenging in this situation, and I’m still not sure where I stand on the topic.
The performances were phenomenal–great singing, dancing and acting. The “minstrel” format of the show was unique extremely well-used in this situation. I will certainly try to go see it again, and I hope that others in the Twin Cities will take the opportunity to go see this show before it hits Broadway.