We can hardly heap enough praise on Theatre Raleigh’s production of The Scottsboro Boys, directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre. The Scottsboro Boys is a Tony®-nominated 2010 Broadway musical that follows the true-life drama of nine black youths falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. It’s simply an amazing production. Instead of straight drama, the story is told through a brilliant vaudevillian minstrel show that showcases stunning choreography, singing, and dance.
It may seem an odd way to tell the story of a 13-year-old and eight others going to the electric chair, based upon accusations of rape; but, perhaps, we need the circus to be able to truly look at injustice. Justice was a farce, anyway. But like Kander and Ebb’s Chicago, this show is a home-run!
The Scottsboro Boys were “riding the rails,” as they say, jumping into an open boxcar on a train in order to ride for free to Memphis, which was common practice in the day. They did not know each other during their ride, but fate had plans for all of them. When they were discovered, and accused of rape by two white ladies of ill repute also found in the train, these young men would spend the coming years together in a jail in Scottsboro, Alabama, the victims of a system and culture so biased and broken that it starts with a proclamation by the judge, “These innocent boys are guilty!”
Even after eight new trials, even after a new lawyer Samuel Liebowitz, a renowned criminal defense attorney played by Jason Daniel Rath, came from New York to work the case pro bono, the system seemed determined to ignore the truth to keep them in jail. Liebowitz got some of The Scottsboro Boys released, even after one of the accusers came clean and admitted their story was fabricated, but jury after jury found the remainder of them guilty, and they remained in jail.
It was a merry-go-round of injustice for these men. Even Liebowitz experiences the bigotry of being a Jew and a Yankee.
There is no set for the telling of this story, no sofas, no windows, no jailhouse door, just the actors and their stories; and yet though light and sound we are transported from courthouse to jail cell and back again.
The rough-hewn double proscenium and up-lighting casts an eerie shadow over all of the action and multiplies the effect, and makes everything seem bigger than life. With no backdrop, the details are more important, and here, the details are spot-on.
The slamming of the jail house door is done with a simple movement of the hand and the heavy sound of the slamming of an iron door. So deliberate, so final. The costumes, from the sad, clownish narrators to the period jailhouse uniforms, all seem well-placed. Even the yellow dress of the Lady (Aya Wallace) seemed to step straight out of the 1930s.
The performers themselves all rise to the telling of the story as if all were seasoned professionals. Great acting, tight vocal harmonies, and fitting dance moves made them all shine. It feels wrong to single anyone out, because they were all amazing. However, we must give a nod to Mr. Bones (David Robbins) and Mr. Tambo (Jason Daniel Rath), who lead us through the action, and Haywood (Darius Jordan Lee), who makes it all the way to the governor for a pardon.
While it is a stark commentary on race relations in 1931, The Scottsboro Boys is also a cutting-edge testimonial about race relations today. The only white face is the Interlocutor, a ringleader for injustice. Male black actors played the white women and the jurors, and they even don blackface in a startling role reversal.
It all seems wrong, because, well, what happened to these young men was wrong, is wrong, and is outrageous. And as we get to know these boys and their backstories, and we cheer for them with each new trial, we see them struggle and survive, we can’t help but want change, for them, and for us. For humanity.
The first step is recognizing the wrong, and this play forces us to ask ourselves if we will continue to allow injustice or if we will finally decide to stand up and demand it, or as Rosa Parks did so long ago, stubbornly sit to do so.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 6th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts Review review by Susie Potter: http://www.triangleartsreview.com/home/theatre-raleighs-the-scottsboro-boys-is-bold-brave-and-powerful; Sept. 5th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9534; Sept. 5th Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd76.html; and Sept. 1st Cary, NC RDU on Stage interview with Moses T. Alexander Greene, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/ep-35-behind-the-story-of-theatre-raleighs-production-of-the-scottsboro-boys-a-case-of-racial-injustice-then-now/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 7th Triangle Review review by Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/09/theatre-raleighs-the-scottsboro-boys-is-absolutely-phenomenal-with-a-unique-storytelling-method/.)
Theatre Raleigh presents THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS at 8 p.m. Sept. 6, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 7, 3 p.m. Sept. 8, 8 p.m. Sept. 11-13, 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 14, and 3 p.m. Sept. 15 in the in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $35 ($32.50 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $45 premium seating.
BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, email@example.com, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket/#/events/a0S61000005W4MXEA0.
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SHOW: https://theatreraleigh.com/the-scottsboro-boys/, https://www.facebook.com/events/567845150291760/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/scottsboro-boys-theatre-raleigh.
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NOTE: On its website, Theatre Raleigh writes that this show is “Appropriate for Audiences 16+, due to Languages and Adult Situations.”
The Scottsboro Boys (nine black youths who were charged with raping two white women and tried in 1931): https://www.britannica.com/event/Scottsboro-case (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottsboro_Boys (Wikipedia).
The Scottsboro Boys (2010 Off-Broadway, 2010 Broadway musical, and 2014 West End): http://scottsboromusical.com/ (official website), https://www.mtishows.com/the-scottsboro-boys (Music Theatre International), http://iobdb.com/Production/4983 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/the-scottsboro-boys-488110 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scottsboro_Boys_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://theatreraleigh.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/The-Scottsboro-Boys-Study-Guide.pdf (from the Broadway production).
John Kander (music and lyrics): http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/2151 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/john-kander-6837 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0437218/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kander (Wikipedia).
Fred Ebb (music and lyrics): http://fredebbfoundation.org/ (Fred Ebb Foundation), http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/2152 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/fred-ebb-5654 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0247939/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Ebb (Wikipedia).
David Thompson (book): http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/2149 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-thompson-5013 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Thompson_(writer) (Wikipedia).
Gerry McIntyre (director and choreographer): http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/12762 (Internet Off-Broadway Database) and https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/gerry-mcintyre-72769 (Internet Broadway Database).