These words ring through the Lyceum Theatre as the Scottsboro Boys count off and tell a story of struggle, discrimination, but above all…the truth. With music and lyrics beautifully crafted by the dynamic duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, and a set that follows the increasing trend of the simpler the better, The Scottsboro Boys not only entertains audiences, but also gives them a 1 hour and 40 minute history lesson. Based on the Scottsboro Case of 1931, the musical tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the case and those involved while performed in the style of a traditional minstrel show.
Kander and Ebb’s music makes the minstrel show aspect of the musical even more genuine and factual. Going into the show, I was admittedly skeptical about how a composing team who is known for their jazz and musical theatre styled music would tackle a subject that is much more serious than shows such as Curtains or Cabaret. After all, the song “Roxie” is not something you would expect a predominantly African American cast to start belting out. The minstrel aspect of The Scottsboro Boys completely quenched any doubts about the musical style of the show. Some may go as far as to say Mr. Kander and Mr. Ebb took the easy way out by molding the story to the music rather than molding the music to fit the show, however while watching there was no disappointment to be had by the score and those who are well learned in minstrel theatre no doubt appreciated the accuracy of the slapstick jokes and well-known characters…isn’t that right Mr. Bones?
As in other historically based musicals, the story never left the audience unsatisfied. When has an audience member ever walked out of Les Miserables or Parade and said the story was horrible? As long as a show recounts an interesting time in history, it is almost sure to have a great plot. However, the addition of “The Lady”, the single female character in the show, adds a mystery and excitement to the show. Not speaking a word until the last scene of the play the audience is left guessing, who is this lady, why is she here, and the answer is something that furthers the meaning of the play ten fold and leaves audience completely sated .
The Scottsboro Boys is a moving piece that leaves a lasting impression. It combines aspects of history not typically seen together (minstrelsy and the Scottsboro Case) which allows for a meaningful piece in every sense of the word.