Joshua Henry opened his solo concert at the Triad Theater on February 20 singing the words “I’m livin’ my life like it’s golden.” The chorus to Jill Scott’s hit certainly describes Henry’s glowing career on Broadway, as he’s currently starring in the smash revival of Porgy and Bess after coming off a Tony nomination for last season’s The Scottsboro Boys. Even with a featured role in American Idiot in which he had to strip down to his skivvies, Henry is living the high life, which he proved by playing to an adoring crowd who sang along with his set list of soul (and simply soul-touching) songs in an evening titled “Soul Weakness.”
Scott’s good-willed “Golden” kicked off Henry’s jam session, followed by “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” Clearly striking a nerve with the audience, Henry played “What Would I Do If I Could Feel” from The Wiz to giant cheers. James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” gave Henry the chance to strut his confident, yet silly, personality on stage, which was received with delighted squeals.
Perhaps the most anticipated moment of the evening was when Henry inevitably performed “Go Back Home” from Scottsboro Boys. His delicate, moving performance earned him his first Tony nomination and to see him perform the number again, after the show ran so briefly on Broadway, was a rare treat. However, in the spirit of tailoring the concert to his liking, Henry performed the John Kander and Fred Ebb song in a mashup with Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
VIDEO: Watch Joshua Henry sing “Go Back Home” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”
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
- Kevin Daly of Theatre Aficionado At Large and I discuss the first preview of The Scottsboro Boys
- Fela! performs free concert in DUMBO
- Seeing Lombardi
- Broadway grosses
Were you at the first preview of The Scottsboro Boys, Rushers? If so, what did you think of the show? Is it on your list of shows to see this season? Did you make it out to the free Fela! concert, despite the rain? Have you caught Lombardi yet? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below! And for on-the-go updates, news, and sightings, follow Stage Rush on Facebook and Twitter.