Previewed 4 October 2014, Opened 20 October 2014, Closed 21 February 2015 at the Garrick Theatre in London
The new John Kander and Fred Ebb The Scottsboro Boys in London's West End following an acclaimed run at the Young Vic Theatre.
The musical The Scottsboro Boys tells the true story of nine young black men, aged between 12 and 19, travelling on a train through Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931 in search of a new life. By the end of their journey their lives had been changed forever. Wrongly accused of an unspeakable crime, their trial would divide a nation. But behind the screaming headlines was the devastating story of nine young men, desperate to prove to the world that they mattered.
The Scottsboro Boys trials led to the passage of two pivotal Supreme Court rulings, including the right to proper legal representation and the right to trial by a jury of one's peers, specifically ensuring that black people could no longer be excluded from juries. On 19 April 2013, the Scottsboro Boys Act was finally passed in the USA - a historic piece of legislation to posthumously exonerate the last eight of the nine boys, enacted an incredible 82 years later.
When this production transferred to the Grrick Theatre in October 2014 Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard highlighted that "this West End transfer of Susan Stroman's accomplished production is richly deserved and it is only to be hoped that such intelligent, determinedly downbeat fare doesn't struggle in a commercial climate... the music is magnificent, a stirring, period-specific mixture of gospel, jazz and vaudeville." Lyn Gardner in the Guardian noted that "Susan Stroman's production - cleverly and simply designed by Beowulf Boritt - mines the dark, brutal humour to an entirely merited and an almost uncomfortably provocative degree. The choreography is often electrifying," adding that "this is a show that boasts a brilliant ensemble." Sam Marlowe in the Times praised the "irresistibly entertaining" and "devastating show of dazzling sophistication and snarling wit that leaves you reeling. Brave, brilliant and unmissable." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said: "yes, do rush to see this ingenious, pain-filled, feelgood show but be prepared to be ambushed by ambivalence. You may be torn between wanting to clap and beat yourself up." Neil Norman in the Daily Express called it "funny, dark, tragic and absurdly entertaining... not to be missed." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail described it as being "lavishly cheerful yet poignant. As moral outrage, it's riveting... director Susan Stroman delivers a show that is deliriously upbeat, while the athletic young performers leave no racial stereotype unturned."
When this production originally opened at the Young Vic Theatre Michael Billington in the Guardian praised it as being a "dazzlingly daring show" and Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times hailed as "an audacious and thrilling evening." Dominic Maxwell in the Times commented that "there are moments in this London premiere when the archness of the staging becomes overpowering, for all the skill and pizazz of Susan Stroman's production... After an overbright beginning, this ingenious, taboo-busting musical ends up epic, playful and plaintive, all at once." Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph said that "the production, with a book by David Thompson, is uncomfortable, edgy and more than a little self-righteous. But is also passionate, original, and at times deeply moving... and though this is the very antithesis of a feel-good musical, there is no mistaking its power, dark wit and indignation." Simon Edge in the Daily Express wrote: "Despite some great tunes you don't come away whistling. That would be tasteless and this can't help being a feel-bad show because the subject matter is so horrific. However you are allowed to have great fun along the way and this extraordinary memorial to a key event in America's civil rights struggle is a compelling ride." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail thought that "this musical is not as moving as it might - or should - be. Its cleverness gets in the way." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard described it as being "a daring piece of work that will challenge the convictions of anyone who thinks musical theatre tends to be either splashy and camp or plaintively nostalgic."
Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman with set designs by Beowulf Boritt, costume designs by Toni-Leslie James, lighting by Ken Billington and sound by Paul Arditti. With music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb and book by David Thompson. Susan Stroman's West End directing and choreography credits include Mel Brooks' musical The Producers (Drury Lane Theatre 2004). Her choreography credits include Harold Prince's revival of the Hammerstein and Kern's Show Boat (Prince Edward Theatre 1998) and Trevor Nunn's revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (National Theatre's Olivier Theatre 1998 and Lyceum Theatre 1999). In addition she co-devised with John Weidman the dance show Contact (Queen's Theatre 2002) which she choregraphed. Kander and Ebb's London theatre credits include Cabaret (Lyric Theatre 2006 and Savoy Theatre 2012), Chicago The Musical (Adelphi Theatre 1997, Cambridge Theatre 2006 and Garrick Theatre 2011) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (Shaftesbury Theatre 1992).
"Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, whose previous risk-taking includes depicting singing Nazis in Cabaret and musical murderesses in Chicago, go even further by presenting nine young African-Americans on trumped-up rape charges in a traditional minstrel show. A white Interlocutor leads 11 highly talented black actor-singers who play a host of roles across the racial and sexual divide... As witty and tuneful as it is provocative and profound, The Scottsboro Boys was the best musical of last year and remains the best of this." The Sunday Express
"Angry, intense, uncomfortable and highly entertaining, musical theatre seldom gets richer than The Scottsboro Boys, a full-throttle songand-dance show telling the true story of nine innocent black lads pulled off a train and put on Death Row when two white women, guilty of fare-dodging, squeal gang rape in Alabama in 1931. It's the work of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, experts in teasing a tune and a tapdance out of an electric chair or rustling up a jazzy spiritual out of appalling injustice. Their Cabaret revealed Nazi persecution through, well, cabaret, while Chicago drew on vaudeville for its criminally amusing expose of corruption. The Scottsboro Boys is even more audacious. It is framed as a minstrel show - a theatrical form belonging to less enlightened times which had white actors blacking up to poke fun at African-Americans and make white folks smile - and a virtuoso cast of black actors reverses that tradition... Director and choreographer Susan Stroman stages her stunning production with just half a dozen chairs variously arranged to create a freight train, a prison and a courtroom. It's a triumph. You would come out humming if it weren't for the lump in your throat." The Mail on Sunday
"John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical version was left unfinished at the latter's death in 2004, but finally reached Broadway in 2010, and it is this production that is here, lovingly re-created at the Young Vic... The great stroke of daring on Kander and Ebb's part is to present this cruel and painful story as a grinning, leaping, wisecracking song'n'dance minstrel show... The director, Susan Stroman, also choreographs brilliantly - the energy of the dancing is almost exhausting to watch. And there's ingenious set design throughout, by one Beowulf Boritt. Tambourines become train wheels and a few silver chairs become variously the Chattanooga Choo Choo, or prison bars, or a drainage ditch, or a judge's bench." The Sunday Times
The Scottsboro Boys in London at the Garrick Theatre previewed from 4 October 2014, opened on 20 October 2014 and closed on 21 February 2015.