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'The Scottsboro Boys' will be brilliant

Scottsboro

Scottsboro Photo Credit: Handout

The Scottsboro Boys

4 Stars

It’s difficult to imagine a more daring, disturbing or dangerous musical than “The Scottsboro Boys.” Or, for that matter, a more improbable commercial venture for Broadway.

That being said, this jarring mix of racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes, legal injustice and physical abuse with the Old South and song-and-dance entertainment is brilliant, subversive and ultimately heartbreaking.

While its cynical attitude and shocking content are often difficult to stomach, the show tells a true story that needs to be remembered.

Written by the legendary team of composer John Kander and the late lyricist Fred Ebb (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”), it recounts how nine black men were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1930s Alabama. Their score is tuneful and utilizes numerous song styles.
Instead of presenting the musical as a straightforward narrative, it is ominously framed as a minstrel show. There is even a production number performed in blackface makeup.

Except for John Cullum, who plays the jolly minstrel ringleader, the cast consists entirely of black performers. And a mysterious woman sits silently at the side of the stage watching the chilling story.

Cullum, who does a giddy but menacing cakewalk, displays authoritative presence and Southern authenticity. Among the imprisoned teens, Joshua Henry brings a defiant spirit and burly physicality to the role of Haywood Patterson.

Susan Stroman’s spare and seamlessly staged production, in which metal chairs are manipulated to represent different locations, is inventive and athletic.

If you go: “The Scottsboro Boys” plays an open run at the Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200, scottsboromusical.com.

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