The creators of The Scottsboro Boys are out to make audiences squirm in their seats with discomfort. This new musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb tells the true story of nine black men who were wrongfully accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931 and put through hell in jail before being released years later. What puts audiences of Scottsboro into such discomfort are the grim historical facts and the jolting manner in which the story is told—a painfully wide-grinned minstrel show. This daring method of storytelling should be no surprise, as Kander and Ebb famously highlighted American judicial failure in the musical classic Chicago with tongue-in-cheeked razzle dazzle.
Along with book writer David Thompson, Kander and Ebb (the latter died in 2004) use the creepy, controversial minstrel method to juxtapose the injustice that is done to the nine innocent men and highlight the atrocious crimes of racism. Broadway legend John Cullum plays the minstrel staple of Interlocutor, who orders up the cast to tell a story. Coleman Domingo and Forrest McClendon play Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, two other minstrel fixtures that rotate tirelessly through numerous roles. Domingo, as deranged as ever, is chilling as he brutalizes and tortures the Scottsboro Boys with insane evil as a sheriff, lawyer, and prison guard.
It’s a wonder that Domingo is able to sustain his heightened level of cartoon maniac throughout the show, yet the same can be said for the rest of the cast and the heavy subject matter. In the bluntly-titled number “Electric Chair,” Guard Bones and Guard Tambo terrify the youngest member of the Scottsboro Boys—Eugene, a little boy—with the possible fate of electrocution. The guards perform the number with sadistic pleasure, and it’s jolting to think that Jeremy Gumbs, the young actor who plays Eugene, is involved with such a dark show at his young age. Read more