After a long day and securing some of the last few sets of tickets to this critically acclaimed “Master Piece” presented by one of Chicago’s top musical theater companies, The experience was beyond worth the $51 ticket price.
The Scottsboro Boys not only in its true historical context is something we as African- American’s are still fighting for ….The right to a fair trial. Let me quickly paint the picture for you if you are unfamiliar with this part of American history. The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers accused in Alabama of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial.
Great ground work for a musical right? Porchlight Music Theater does a phenomenal job with telling this story in a very intimate space. It was a very smart choice to run the show without an intermission. The content itself was so ardent, stopping to take a bathroom break or even to go refill at the bar, was just not necessary.
From the opening of the Lady sitting on the park bench waiting for something… I was instantly enthralled into the time period, in Alabama. The melodious voice of Stephen Allen (Someone who everyone should be on the look out for. This guy is a force to be reckoned with.) rang out through the theater giving us the setting of the show as we then met the other 8 gentlemen of this compassionate heart drenching story.
If you’re familiar with the Original Broadway version of this show which originally opened March 10, 2010, with Tony Award Winning Director Susan Stroman. Who received much backlash and many argumentative opinions about how she staged the original production as a “Minstrel Show” Which we all know was a slap in the face to all performers of color. Stroman still pushed forward with her original concept which received numerous nominations, awards, as well as West End version of the production which also was nominated for Oliver awards. To my surprise Porchlight kept with the original integrity of Stroman’s concept. I tip my hat to a gentleman I have followed for a little while now in Chicago Mr. Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. Artistic Director of the Congo Square Theater, who made his Porchlight Music Theater directorial debut with Scottsboro Boys. The way Roberson transforms the space and uses every inch of the set, breaking the 4th wall and truly involving the audience through out the entire performance. It was one point where as to I was looking at an actor walking at least 10 feet above my head, lets remember people this is a small space.Which ANDREI ONEGIN’S set design itself was incredible, very simple and minimalist but spoke volumes.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh as hard as I did in this show but it was impossible with DENZEL TSOPNANG & MARK HOOD as the “The Headliners” of this minstrel show. These guys had me in tears from so much laughter. Their characters stood apart from everyone else within the show Mr. Bones, (Tsopnang) & Mr. Tambo (Hood) Every character they portrayed was completely different from top to bottom. To be able to go from a drunk man to a well to-do fasting talking Jewish lawyer in a matter of moments takes not only great skill, but great technique. These guys had it all from fancy socks, to fly suits, to new dialects, high energy, and astounding voices. This show just got better and better after each scene.
My favorite character of the night was non-other than Ms. Victoria Price played by JOS BANKS. Now remember this is a historical piece that done in mistrial style. Therefore, the entire story is delivered by the nine boys as a production, with them playing out every scene. BANKS was a full hoot and a half portraying Ms. Price, posing as a uppity white female. Who was a low paid prostitute jumping trains with her friend Ruby Bates, trying to find their next buyer. BANKS delivered the role in a way that only he could, Spunky and spicy with a dash of fierceness. And his sidekick Ruby Bates played by TREQUON TATE was also just a pure joy and held her own I would describe her performance as sultry, and engaging. The show thief of the night was non-other than 14-year-old CAMERON GOODE who plays Eugene Williams, the youngest of the nine boys to be accused. One of my favorite songs in this amazing score by John Kander & Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret) is “Go Back Home” the soul drenching inspirational ballad happens early in the show, led by Haywood (JAMES EARL JONES II) the boys talking about their plans of what life will be like when they get out of jail, and what their future plans are. Some dialogue is delivered, and out of nowhere it seems as if the heavens had parted and Saint Peter had opened the gates of heaven. My ears skyrocketed with excitement trying to figure out who’s voice was singing this breath taking melody, The tone was so rich and so pure it was beyond perfect GOODE for sure made this role his own. The future path for this young soul is surely BRIGHT!
I must say I went in with my hands over my eyes, not sure what to expect from this amazing production company. With seeing the original seven years ago on Broadway, I’ve always felt like it couldn’t be touched. After the first scene, my eyes were wide open and my hand were elevated ready to receive all Porchlight had to offer and they pulled out all the stops with this one and made this Chicago premier of The Scottsboro Boys one that will remain unforgettable.
Congratulations on an amazing run. STEPHEN ALLEN (Clarence Norris) JOS N. BANKS (Charles Weems) CYNTHIA CLAREY (The Lady) CAMERON GOODE (Eugene Williams) IZAIAH HARRIS (Willie Roberson) MARK J.P. HOOD* (Mr. Tambo) JAMES EARL JONES II* (Haywood Patterson) MAURICE RANDLE (Andy Wright) JEROME RILEY, JR. (Roy Wright) TREQUON TATE (Ozie Powell) DENZEL TSOPNANG (Mr. Bones) TRAVIS AUSTIN WRIGHT (Olen Montgomery) LARRY YANDO* (The Interlocutor) SUSAN P. ANDERSON (u/s The Lady) JARED GRANT (u/s Mr. Bones & Clarence) PATRICK PERRY (u/s The Interlocutor) NOLAN ROBINSON (u/s Willie & Eugene) MICHAEL LOVETTE (u/s Ozie & Andy) Director, Samuel Roberson, Jr. Choreographer, Florence Walker-Harris , Associate Choreographer, Breon Arzell, Music Director, Doug Peck, Stage Manager, Jessica Forella & Production Manager, Alex Rhyan.
CHICAGO your one last chance to catch the Scottsboro Boys is
Saturday, March 25, 2017 at 8 p.m.
The Center for Performing Arts
Governors State University 1 University Parkway, University Park, IL 60484
To purchase tickets, click here http://www.govst.edu/About/Center_for_Performing_Arts/All_Events_by_Date/The_Scottsboro_Boys/