Monday, January 30, 2012

The Scottsboro Boys

Scottsboro boys on boxcar in Alabama
The Philadelphia Theatre Company is presenting the Tony Award nominated musical The Scottsboro Boys through February 19 in its Suzanne Roberts Theatre, located at Broad and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia, Pa. In an exceptional and thought provoking   interview, composer John Kander, writer David Thompson and director/choreographer Susan Stroman  gave insight into the birth of The Scottsboro Boys. An idea germinated to write a musical about a true story and the idea of using the case of the Scottsboro Boys who were in the national spotlight in the ‘30s took hold. They wanted to make the point that the boys were individuals who mattered. Every time the case was mentioned in the papers or in a trial, the 9 boys aged 13-19 were referred to as The Scottsboro Boys. No one ever recognized them as individuals.….Eugene Williams is portrayed by the extremely talented 11 year old tap dancer, Nile Bullock; Charlie Weems is portrayed by the adaptable  Andrew Arrington; Ozie Powell is portrayed by the flexible Gilbert L. Bailey; Olen Montgomery is portrayed by David Bazemore;  The Wright brothers, Andy and Roy are portrayed by Derrick Cobey and Clinton Roane respectively; Clarence Norris is portrayed by Eric Jackson;  Willie Robeson is portrayed by Kendrick Jones; and Haywood Patterson, the boy who learned to read and write while in prison and wrote down the boys’ story is portrayed by Rodney Hicks. When a local sheriff gets on a train outside of Scottsboro,Alabama and is about to arrest two prostitutes; the prostitutes concoct a story about rape in order to avoid arrest and point to the 9 “negroes” that were pulled off the box cars. Thus the saga of the Scottsboro Boys begins. Several trials are held as verdicts are overturned and people rally to their support. Rosa Parks met her husband at one such rally.  She is a silent watcher during much of the show, keeping a figurative eye on the boys.  The  telling is done as part of a minstrel show but the whole concept of the minstrel show is flipped upside down with black actors playing white roles. The characters have to announce that they are white to avoid any misunderstanding. Kander and Ebb are the successful musical team who has given us, Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman among others. This score is destined to be another smash hit. The lyrics are poignant and beautifully executed. Some of the more jarring lyrics come directly from trial transcripts, adding to the authenticity of the tale. The dance numbers showcase the talent of this ensemble cast. Whether doing a tap or an acrobatic routine, every character executes a stellar performance. Not only are many of the cast members from the Broadway production, including several of the boys and Forrest McClendon as Mr. Tambo and JC Montgomery as Mr. Bones, but the original creative team of set desiger Beowulf Boritt, lighting designer Ken Billington, costume designer Toni-Leslie James and sound designer Peter Hylenski are reunited in Philadelphia to work on this production. Now that’s a formula for success! Tickets are bound to sell out quickly. To purchase tickets or to get more information call 215-985-0420 or visit online at

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