As it happens, just before going to see The Scottsboro Boys today, I got an email back from a friend who said she wanted to see the show, but her husband didn't. She added that they'd gone to a party yesterday, and one couple they sat with said that it was just as well that my friend and her husband weren't going - the couple had walked out during the middle of Act I and said they didn't even wait for intermission.
Having seen the show now, I can understand completely if the subject matter doesn’t interest someone and so they don’t want to go, as in – I assume – my friend's husband's case.
But unfortunately my friend has this recurring problem of having a circle of friends who consistently have artistic judgment I find deeply questionable. It’s not that they didn’t like The Scottsboro Boys (that’s personal taste), but that they walked out early -- and then said it’s "just as well" that my friends were t going, rather than simply recognizing it wasn’t to their taste. (The show did get 12 Tony nominations, after all, and it’s from two Broadway legends, John Kander and Fred Ebb, and a director/choreographer, Susan Stroman, who has won the second-most Tonys ever – which doesn’t mean it’s good or to everyone’s taste, just that there should be a recognition that one shouldn’t be so outright dismissive, especially when you've walked out and haven't actually seen most of the show.) More to the point, in fact, since this couple says they left in the middle of Act 1 and didn’t wait for the intermission, that just confirms that their opinion should be taken with a massive grain of salt, if not outright ignored – since...there is no intermission! So, I have no idea when they left, nor what they saw. They clearly didn't bother to look at the program. And their judgment is based on perhaps missing most of the show and not seeing how it develops.
As for the show itself, I don’t think it's for everyone. It's a dark, harsh subject matter -- the profoundly unjust treatment of nine Black men wrongly arrested and railroaded for the rape of two white woman, one of whom even recanted during a re-trial...at which the defendants were again found guilty. But it’s quite good, very inventively staged, and has quite an effective score. I don’t think it’s “great,” or at the level of their best, but it’s very thoughtful and about something substantive. It’s also impressive work for a couple of writers probably in their late 70s at the time, to do something so different from their earlier work, and something with such an edge. In many ways, it’s sort of a companion piece to “Chicago,” though darker, about injustice and the court system.
I suspect the style is polarizing for some people, being done as a sort of Minstrel Show in that exaggerated style, not pulling any punches, but I also suspect that that was the intent, to try and create an atmosphere today that could give audiences the uncomfortable sensibility of the time. Not that the show is uncomfortable at all for the style (at least to me) but that it does keep you a little off-kilter and jolts you a few times. For what it's worth, the show did get a very good reaction throughout and got an enthusiastic response at the end.
The cast is quite good – the main character, played by Joshua Henry, is particularly good – and it was nice to see Hal Linden, who does a nice job in a small, but important role.
For anyone interested, this is the full 30-minute Theater Talk episode from which I linked the song "Go Back Home" earlier. It's a discussion with John Kander, Susan Stroman and two of the actors, Colman Domingo, and the afore-linked Brandon Victor Dixon, who basically has the most prominent role,
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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