Friday, February 17, 2017

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's The Scottsboro Boys

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Scottsboro Boys. The book was by David Thompson and the music and lyrics were by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Direction and choreography were by Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. It was about the Scottsboro case, but it was a musical. The Scottsboro case was a case of nine African-American men and boys who were accused unfairly of rape during the Depression: Olen Montgomery (Travis Austin Wright), Andy Wright (Maurice Randle), Eugene Williams (Cameron Goode), Haywood Patterson (James Earl Jones II), Clarence Norris (Stephen Allen, Jr.), Willie Roberson (Izaiah Harris), Ozie Powell (Trequon Tate), Roy Wright (Jerome Riley, Jr.), and Charles Weems (Jos N. Banks). That certainly isn't the most fun topic for a musical, but it is a story that needs to told. It is heartbreaking, disturbing, and it made me feel really angry and sad about the injustice that was done to these people.

My favorite song was "Go Back Home." It made me cry because they all had such beautiful voices and you could feel how much they wanted to get home to what they missed. Haywood and Eugene lead this song and they have little talking sections where they talk about what they hope to see when they get home. Eugene was talking about how he was really hoping he could get home for his 12th birthday, which is really sad because he is still very young but he has still been accused of this terrible crime because of a lie someone told. And he spends many years in prison because of it. It was insane to me that a little boy would be accused of something like this. Haywood had the most tragic ending, in my opinion. I think that by the end when you think back on the song it is even more sad. Even though he was innocent and wouldn't even lie, he still never gets to go home in the show.

Victoria Price (Banks) and Ruby Bates (Tate), the accusers, were played by two of the Scottsboro Boys, but they at first did not "make friends with the truth." And Victoria never does. Even though they were terrible people, they still made pretty funny characters. Especially Ruby because she wasn't as evil; she didn't make the plan and she also tried to get them out of prison once they had been put in. Both characters had great mannerisms, like they seem to always be fanning themselves. Ruby had a mink scarf that whenever someone would get on her nerves, she would scare them away with one of the faces. I think it was appropriate to have these characters portrayed by men because the Scottsboro Boys had been stereotyped and now that they have a chance to stereotype someone else, they do. I think that is pretty satisfying. There was only one female actor in this entire show, though, but she had a very important role even though she didn't speak until the end. She played a very key role in the civil rights movement's history. I thought that was a great reveal at the end: who she was and why she was thinking of the Scottsboro Boys.

The brothers, Andy and Roy Wright, were very close and they never seemed to get mad at each other. They seemed to help each other through everything, which was a very sweet relationship to see. They were going somewhere to get jobs to help their family and now they don't know if their family can pay for everything. They both seem to try and help the rest of the Scottsboro Boys get in touch with their families. Also, because one of them was a little older than the other, they didn't get to leave the prison together. Seeing them hug when they may never see each other again was so heartbreaking. This had a lot of emotional impact on me. You got to know so much about how they missed their mom and their sister, so when one of them gets to go off and see them and the other one may die, it was really moving.

All of the Scottsboro Boys were also part of a minstrel show in this version. It was run by the Interlocutor (Larry Yando), who would basically ask everyone questions. Mr. Bones (Denzel Tsopnang) and Mr. Tambo (Mark J.P. Hood) are basically like clowns in the minstrel show and in the real story they play many of the white characters. I thought that was interesting because you kind of got to see the opposite of the blackface minstrel show, where white people played black characters. I thought that the minstrel theme sometimes was disturbing though. It seemed as if they were trying to make light out of a very very dark story. I also think that because the show was written by white men, it seemed as if instead of progressing forward in history they were taking it back to a bad time but not because the musical needed it. I think if black writers had chosen to stage a minstrel show, it would have felt more comfortable and progressive because it wouldn't have felt like the writers were doing the same thing the Interlocutor was doing in the show--that is, making African-American people perform a minstrel show. I think the writers were trying to show the story in a unique way, but they leave themselves open to being seen as unprogressive. I did think the performers and the director (and possibly the writers, but it is hard to tell) worked to make the performances in the minstrel scenes more rebellious against stereotypes of their culture. You could see by the performers' expressions during the minstrel numbers that they were not enjoying this. But whenever they would do the sincere story, they seemed to be really feeling it, identifying with their characters and wanting the story to be told.

People who would like this show are people who like touching sibling relationships, going home, and scary scarves. I think this was a good show. It had some great and touching moments and I enjoyed it. It made me want to learn a lot more about this case and it made me think a lot about injustices that are happening today and how we all need to do something about it.

Photos: Kelsey Jorissen

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