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Catch This Before It Closes: The Scottsboro Boys

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A trip to the Lyceum Theater on W. 45th Street before December 12th will give you a brush with history. "The Scottsboro Boys" is the show on stage, and the spectacle of a justice system that works for "Whites Only" is played out in a vaudeville and a minstrel show style not likely to be seen round these parts for years to come.

One can argue this ultra-retro musical is confined by the limitations of the lens it's projecting through. But, the power of the story—nine black men accused of raping two white women in Alabama in the '30s and their ultimate proof of innocence after years of imprisonment—comes through loud and clear. The play is strong on narrative and moves through a story that is an unlikely one for any musical theater treatment. Yet a first rate mostly black cast literally entertains us as we go through trial after trial with drunken lawyers and sheriffs who swing their pistols and declare the rule of the land.

"The Scottsboro Boys," which is directed by the Tony-award winner Susan Stroman, has been controversial for its use of blackface and minstrel makeup. True, the play's portrayal of the way racial stereotypes were commonly integrated into music and dance in the south for several generations is sometimes disconcerting to watch. But the fact that some of the themes in the play still hold true today, including that our prisons remain filled with men of color in disproportionate numbers make it a history piece that still hits home.

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