Saturday February 24th 2018

“The Scottsboro Boys”

PrintHighly Recommended **** It is rare, but two theater companies, within months of each other, have presented a play dealing with the same subject matter. The saga is that of “The Scottsboro Boys” and while Raven Theater’s story is with some music, the current (Chicago Premiere, by the way), Porchlight Music Theatre production is that written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who brought us “Chicago” and “Cabaret” among others. This is a true story about nine African- American teenagers accused of Rape and put on trial, several times for a crime that they did not commit. The time was early in the 20th century, the place was Memphis and the air was filled with great tension as the women were white and thus this even was the start of what became the modern civil rights movement. This brilliant musical, one that is very “Kander & Ebb”, reminding us of their earlier shows, is set up as a minstrel show, which in itself starts the “black and white” theme.

scotsboro7

scottsboro1Directed by Samuel G. Roberson and choreographed by Florence Walker-Harris, this unique show keeps us transfixed on a major story of our times for one-hour-fifty-minutes (no intermission) and yet, due to its solid cast , the show does not seem to be long at all. It is suggested when checking in to make certain to visit the “little boys or girls” room right before curtain time, just to be sure. The set design by Andrei Onegin is unique in that it allows us to focus on the story, but the feeling of where each scene is supposed to be is easy to follow. We are on a train, in a depot, in a prison, in a courtroom and only some boxes are used to make these scene changes. Clever and precise!

The costumes (Samantha Jones) and lighting (Richard Norwood) along with the sound (Keegan Bradac) and props (Mealah Heidenreich) make the picture one of completeness and Ross Hoppe’s projections complete the totality of same. The musical direction by Doug Peck is superb and the six musicians led by Aaron Benham truly fill the theater with this wonderful music.

The cast of players, however , is why this production shines as bright as it does. The “Minstrel” show has a leader, known as “Interlocutor” (Chicago favorite Larry Yando brings his solid talent to this character). The Minstrel show was designed for White performers to do their faces in black paint to take on the persona of the African- American and “Jim Crow” was born. In this version, “Interlocuter” is the only White man on stage. His sidekicks, Mr. Bones (Denzel Tsopnang) and Mr. Tambo (Mark J. P. hood) take on other roles during this show, but in all cases, we know they are just doing their jobs in allowing our leader to “tell the truth”.scottsboro2

The NINE led by the amazing James Earl Jones II as Haywood Patterson ( who I believe should be considered for a Jeff for this one) are as follows: Travis Austin Wright, Maurice Randle, Cameron Goode( who shows that amazing things come from small packages-what a voice), Stephen Allen Jr., Izaiah Harris, Trequon Tate, Jerome Riley, Jr. and Jos N. Banks. During this amazing story-telling saga, these actors take on all types of additional roles, do costume changes, help move the set pieces about and work as hard as an actor can to ensure that each and every detail of this wonderful production is as near perfection as possible.

Oh, yes! There is another performer in this show. The Lady, who is played by Cynthia Clarey, who represents several things to the “nine” and to the audience. She is “truth”, hope” and “History adjusting itself”. This is a play that depicts the racial discrimination of America’s past, and teaches us about a factual event in a unique and different way. Remember, there are three sides to every story. In this case, the southern Whites, the Southern African-Americans and the “truth”. I tend to think that the book by David Thompson, gets to the bottom of the true story of this horrible event.

I guess what I find bothersome about this story is that even today, the racial discrimination is here. In this tale, there is also mention of other racial tensions. The attorney that is brought in to represent the “nine” for their second trial is a Northern Jew (there are cracks about this as well). All too often, stories like this one get swept under the rug. They are forgotten and the old rule of thumb has been “out of sight, out of mind”. It is stories such as this, ones that remind us of the atrocities of history, that allow us to remember and to work against allowing history to repeat itself. I suggest that anyone over the age of 13 get to see this historical tale of prejudice, to learn about the past and of greater import, to make certain that such an event can never take place again.

The musical numbers are not those that you will be humming as you exit the theater, but  “Make Friends With The Truth” (amazing number by Jones) as well as “Nothin'” will have a great impact on you. The choral pieces handled by the “nine” are amazing as are the dance numbers, from tap to soft shoe and everything in between. This is a solid production of a solid show with material that will open your eyes, your mind and of course, your heart!

“The Scottsboro Boys” will continue at Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont thru March 12th with performances as follows:

james earlThursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  4  and 8 p.m.

Sundays  2 p.m.

There will be an added matinee at 2 p.m. on March 2nd at 1:30 p.m. but no 7:30 on that date

tickets range from $45-$51 open seating and  can be purchased at the theater box office, by calling 773-327-5252 or at www.porchlightmusictheatre.org

Parking around the theater is metered and there is valet parking. Street parking is possible, but somewhat limited and public transportation works with ease. Cooper’s has parking for diners.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Scottsboro Boys”

Leave a Comment

More from category

“Cosi Fan Tutte” review by Jacob Davis
“Cosi Fan Tutte” review by Jacob Davis

★★★★★ Sublime music mismatched with fluffy subject matter—that’s the long-standing criticism of Wolfgang [Read More]

“The Wolves”
“The Wolves”

As someone who has spent many years around soccer, in particular, girl’s/women’s soccer, watching the [Read More]

“Southern Gothic”
“Southern Gothic”

★★★★★Let me preface my review of the latest production at Windy City Playhouse, by explaining that it is not [Read More]

“Surely Goodness and Mercy”
“Surely Goodness and Mercy”

Highly Recommended **** One of my favorite “storefront” theaters is Redtwist, a PURE storefront on Bryn [Read More]

“Breach”
“Breach”

The actual title of the play now onstage at The Victory Gardens Theater is “Breach: a manifesto on race in [Read More]