Friday, April 09, 2010

The Scottboro Boys

Despite a compelling story, an excellent cast, and some lovely songs, Kander and Ebb's musical, The Scottsboro Boys, fails to pay off. Kander and Ebb have already told us that life is a cabaret, as well as a steel pier, full of razzle dazzle and corruption. Here, along with book writer David Thompson and director-choreographer Susan Stroman, they make the claim that life, at least for the real-life African-American men unjustly arrested for a rape they did not commit, is a minstrel show. Or their trials were a minstrel show. Or other people saw them as a minstrel show. Or something. As an overarching metaphor, the minstrel show fails in many ways, not just in its lack of clarity. It takes focus off of the story, it tries to make the audience complicit for something the audience did not do, and it's painful to watch. As just one example, Stroman's decision to combine energetic tap-dancing with nightmare scenarios manages to dilute both the dancing and the nightmares. In addition, the minstrel humor is mostly flat-out bad and the whole concept is ultimately a distraction. Some reviewers have called this show provocative and daring. I found it flat and disappointing.

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