Misunderstanding THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS

By Christa Tandana An entirely new kind of show has hit Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre. The new musical The Scottsboro Boys is presented in the style of a minstrel show that takes you through the journeys of the real Scottsboro Boys. We should all know the story, though many of us don’t. In 1931 in Alabama, nine African American boys were falsely accused of raping two white women. The penalty in those days in the South was death, but word spread and their case became headline news across the nation as the young men struggled for justice. The musical is not meant to be an exact historical retelling, but rather the story and characters are used as a platform to present many of the underlying issues present both during and after the trials. Whenever an artist decides to tackle something as complex and controversial as this story, they risk being misunderstood. Minstrel shows are known as a racist form of entertainment that portray black slaves as ignorant. However, the creative team of The Scottsboro Boys uses the style to strip it of its power. Since this medium carries such a negative connotation and is ridiculing in nature, it is easy to be offended if one doesn’t look deeply. Besides the role of the narrator/judge/interlocutor, the entire cast is African American. This means that all of the white characters, including the two white women making the accusations, are portrayed by African American men. Some may perceive this decision to be sensationalizing for the sake of entertainment, but I think that it is an incredibly unique way of having African Americans tell the story from their point of view. In addition, minstrel shows traditionally had white actors dressed in black face, so this casting allows for another power switch. The Scottsboro Boys is presented with a different kind of language than any other show on Broadway. It utilizes the pizzazz of Kander and Ebb’s catchy and upbeat songs paired with dynamic choreography, while telling an almost unbearable story. The subject matter and delivery are incredibly complex, like a movie that you need to watch over and over again to understand all the nuisances. The Scottsboro Boys may be easily misunderstood by many and most certainly has. However, whether one leaves feeling motivated, inspired, offended or angry, one cannot deny that it makes you think. And isn’t that what theatre should do? TICKETS: $26.50 SR • Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St. www.scottsboromusical.com