The Scottsboro Boys

Originally, I wasn't going to write a post for this, but I honestly can't stop thinking about this play. It is one of those that hits you way after you've seen it, making you wish you had the money to go again. 

The other night, a friend of mine from the US came to town and we went to see The Scottsboro Boys on its limited West End run. This stunning musical tells the story of nine black boys falsely accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama in the 1930s. You can read more about the boys' true story here.

The West End cast performing the opening number.

The show itself took place in the format of a minstrel show--an outdated concept made popular just after the American Civil War. It portrayed stock characters with white people (and black people) in black face and often lampooned blacks as being stupid and dimwitted. It was an interesting choice for the show, especially because I'm not sure how many people born outside of the South are all that familiar with the "art form." But, to me, it highlighted the absurdity of the case and how much of a public show their trial ultimately became.

West End cast performing the opening number
 The show was interesting to me on several levels. First, as a historian, I found the whole thing fascinating--and can see why the minstrel format works so well for this show. It appears there really isn't much known about most of the boys, and there is a generous amount of filling in. In that case, glossing over all the characters, save one or two, actually serves the show well. And oddly enough, it doesn't really distract from the empathy I felt for them, even though I didn't feel like I got to know who they were. Also, this works for the accusers, who there is very little information about.

What also struck me is that much of my family is from the South and a lot of the cultural references and the harkening back to the "good old days" and the glorification of the South have all been part of my upbringing--mostly by the older generations. Because of this, a lot of the show made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, but that is the point. We cannot change the future without confronting the past in an honest and earnest way. Sometimes it doesn't make us feel good about what we see there, but we are meant to learn from it. 

The West End cast

One theme I also kept meditating on was the idea that back in those days, a woman was actually believed for being raped and that men would be found guilty of it without suitable evidence. Of course, in many cases, the guilty verdict had much more to do with race than the women's testimonies, it is crazy to think that just 80 years ago people were being executed for rape in the US--and now they're touring the country and making jokes about a la Bill Cosby. Not that I think limited information is acceptable for a verdict, but nowadays it is usually incredibly difficult for men to be put in jail for rape--hence why many women don't even bother to report it.

At the end of the day, the show was a great night of theatre...entertaining and thought provoking. 

I should also mention that it was written by Kander and Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret, etc.) and is their last collaboration before Ebb's death in 2004. 

I would definitely urge you to see it before it closes. The cast is phenomenally talented, particularly the young men portraying the Scottsboro Boys.

I've included some songs to listen to below, in addition to a couple of YouTube clips. 

Scottsboro Boys by Anna Scanlon on Grooveshark

Inquire about tickets here (they are very cheap during the week!).

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  1. Amazing post!
    I love your blog so much,it's very nice and different! :)
    Just wanted to say that i mentioned you in my last post as one of my fav blogs:)
    Have a nice day!

    1. Thanks Antonella! I really appreciate it. I will take a look. Thanks for mentioning me! xx


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