The Scotsboro Boys – Garrick Theatre

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When it comes to musicalising one of the most monstrous miscarriages of justice in American history I can’t really think of anyone more qualified than the indomitable pair that are Kander and Ebb. These are the geniuses of course that turned Nazi Germany into a Cabaret and perfectly slotted murder and corruption into Vaudeville. So if you are to turn what can arguably be labelled as one of the building blocks that was to pave the way for the American civil rights movement into a minstrel show then it is these two that will pull it off.

Extraordinarily it is as recent as 2013 that the last of the nine Scotsboro boys of the title were posthumously pardoned for the crime that they clearly did not commit. Their lives were turned upside down on the fateful day back in 1931 when traveling on a train to find a better life for themselves they were accused of rape by two white girls. The nine boys had never met each other before this and were quickly incarcerated by the authorities. Numerous sham trials were held and were torturously discredited one after the other, yet the nine boys remained imprisoned. Even when the alleged victims admitted to having lied telling the courts that they were never raped there is no release in sight.

Overseen by Interlocutor (Julian Glover) with the Vaudevillian Mr Bones (Colman Domingo) and Mr Tambo (Forrest McClendon)  they charge the 2 hour show along at a pace (with no interval). There are uniformly brilliant performances from them as well as the nine Scotsboro boys. Brandon Victor Dixon gives a particularly strong and poignant portrayal of Haywood Patterson. Dixon is one of three Americans in the cast (including original Broadway cast members Domingo and McClendon) who bring an air of authenticity to the piece.

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This is an uncomfortable watch. These were real horrors and to find yourself toe tapping along to the joyful tunes of Kander and Ebb is monstrously inappropriate, yet somehow it tells the tale and whilst communicating the dreadful detail somehow turns the story into a celebration. These lives helped to change America and indeed the world. These men are worth remembering.

It is the masterly work of Susan Stroman as director and choreographer that manages the fine line between celebration and remembrance, of fact and drama. The choreography and the execution of it is simply sensational. Set upon a simplistic and sparse stage furnished only with an array of tables and chairs it is the exceptional talent on stage that dominates, and quite rightly.

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