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“Tonight’s night of laughter, songs, and merriment and jokes,” harmonies rise triumphantly to declare, “Everyone’s a minstrel tonight!” The musical generates a deep empathy for its characters.

In the end, there is no happy ending

Review by Vince Mediaa

A train to Memphis full of the American divide has parked at Gateway Stage only through May 21 st and it is dark but full of spirit. 42nd Street Moon continues its celebrated 31st with THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS. John Kander and Fred Ebb, the Tony honored songwriting team behind such dark, political, musicals as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, continued that high standard with their final collaboration, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, a minstrel musical based on the infamous 1931 Alabama case that saw nine black teenagers sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit. Making use of the controversial format of the minstrel show, the piece is an important one hour and fifty minute excursion into the history of racial bias in America, from the cotton fields to the Civil Rights movement.

The true story, the Scottsboro Boys were nine black Alabama teenagers the youngest not yet 13 falsely accused, imprisoned, and sentenced to death for the rape of two white women in 1931. Repeated miscarriages of justice led to endless retrials and appeals, lynch mobs in the streets, sensationalized press coverage nationwide, protests in the North, and the involvement of both the Communist Party and the NAACP. But while several of those charged were released after years of legal chaos, the last three defendants were officially pardoned in 2013, well after their deaths. The show’s single female cast member, who bears silent witness to the proceedings, makes a historic gesture that we all recognize.

In 1931 Alabama, lies by white women against Black men were good enough for any jury of all white men to confirm a verdict of ‘guilty.’ The company is impressive and power of the songs and underbelly of the musical is arresting. A song list of prejudice that holds up a mirror to the injustice of Black American History. Blacklivesmatter now part of mainstream America proves that much has not changed. As nine young men leave Alabama in a boxcar during the Great Depression two young women board their train. They accuse the men of raping them. The local sheriff said, “The women may be white trash, but that’s good enough for me.”

The splendid, nearly all-African-American ensemble is anchored by the powerful baritone and gravitas of Marcus J Paige as Haywood Patterson who sings with amazing passion “Nothin” and “Coming to Chattanooga”. The versatile stellar Anthony Rollins-Mullens and Albert Hodge as the over-the-top minstrel show team, Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones brings the story a dark celebration. It is the minstrel show framing that provides a dark statement on this sad episode in American history. The superb Michael Patrick Gafney plays the Interlocutor, the cast’s only white member who stands alone with a distinguished performance. Interlocutor inspires the boys to sing “Shout” and march behind in time with him, as he struts in a bright white suit and white hat.

As the story progresses, the troupe becomes less keen to comply with the white man’s version of the truth. The “end men,” Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones are in blackface who serve as wisecracking sidekicks, presenting cruel and crude black stereotypes. Thompsons script flips as black actors take on the roles of various white characters – the racist sheriff and his deputy, the prison guards and Southern district attorney, and the defendants’ Jewish lawyer, Samuel Liebowitz. Leroy Wright played by the brilliant Royal Mickens is a vulnerable teenage boy who wears oversized glasses who dances high and wide along with Guards Bones and Tambo while they sing to him that “not every guy gets to light up the sky [in a] in a fabulous way.” The dance number stops the show with a frantic passion.

The two women who accuse the boys; Victoria Price and Ruby Bates are played by the awesome Jon-David Randle and Alejandro Eustaquio, switching their roles, dressed in swag skirts, and scarfs. As the two women sing “Alabama Ladies” a song of lies and fear, both Randle and Eustaquio are high spirited. The rest of this magnificent company portrays the real names and victims of Scottsboro: Jaiden Griffen as Eugene Williams, Kahlil Leneus as Andy Wright, Miles Meckling as Willie Roberson, Mercury Van Sciver as Olen Montgomery, and Dedrick Weathersby as Clarence Norris. The supporting cast is powerful and all have keen voices and dance moves.

Directed by the expert Brandon Jackson with a clever feel for both the dark side and history of these engrossing victims. He fills the stage at times with a celebration of minstrel America. Choreographed by Kimberly Valmore; the tap and rhythm of “Hey Hey Hey” and “Shout” bring down the house and the cast is all jazz hands and tradition. The tambourines fill the Gateway stage with Diana Lee’s music direction. The costumes, by Rachel Heiman with an earth tone blue jean fit the era, with topping some layers for the different characters they play. Valmore dance numbers are a true celebration, on an easy impressionist set designed by Stewart Lyle, with simple chairs and carts. The costumes and lighting by Sean Keehan color the era. The musicians under the direction of Diana Lee on keyboard include the woodwinds of Nick DiScala, on percussion Kristen Klehr, the okie sounds of the past are easy and fun and deep down sad.

The silent “audience” figure, known only as “The Lady” played by the polished Elizabeth Jones. In her church suit and hat, with infinite composure and compassion in her face, she comes to stand for every black woman who has watched the boys and men in her life jailed, beaten, hanged, and humiliated for being black in America. Her silence is a sign of her powerlessness, grief and her invisibility. In a marvelous reveal, she decides she will no longer stay silent. The show’s target is not just Southern white anti-Semitism: the relationship between Jews and African-Americans is also explored.Kander and Ebb draw on that as an explanation, not an excuse to help understand the show’s most hateful characters.

The musical generates a deep empathy for its characters there is no happy ending. Four of the nine Boys are eventually released, but the closing number tells us of their sad fates: died in jail, committed suicide, disappeared, drank themselves to death. That bus stop in 1955 Montgomery ends the story. Yet prisons continue to fill with young black men, while others are killed in the streets during routine stops, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS reminds us that the injustice is far from over. This is a must see and has only one more weekend.



Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb Book by David Thompson

Director: Brandon Jackson

Choreographer: Kimberly Valmore

Music Director: Diana Lee

Must close May 21st 2023

Gateway Theatre

215 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94111.

One hour 50 min with no intermission

Tickets http://www.42ndStreetMoon


Photos by: 42nd Street Moon


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