Now, I would like to start out by saying that I am not a fan of live theater. I suffer from this diagnosed thing called ADHD you see...I countdown the minutes/songs/scenes/acts until an intermission...I think about what street taco/bacon wrapped hot dog stand I am going to hit up after any evening show. I am just not cut out for being an audience member of live theater, plain and simple. My sister who is a professional (I say that with seriousness) actress stars in many plays and I have been privy to see her perform and be her viewing-pal in seeing other live theater performances. I have seen a vast range from everything like the wildly dynamic The Adding Machine and the onstage, intimate (and nude) scenes of Bonded (a story about Black male slaves in love in the South). I have even seen my fair share of abstract performances (too abstract even for me actually) when one performance had various characters faux-vomiting into a bucket throughout the whole performance...I still to this day didn't know what was going on but at least I got some street tacos in the end.
Knowing my disposition toward theater and god forbid...musicals, when my mom randomly suggested we go see The Scottsboro Boys on father's day weekend I grudgingly obliged (besides she was buying the tickets!). I went, saw it, L-O-V-E-D IT! Could not shout higher to the heavens how much I loved this play. The seamless interplay between history, race, music and satire was unbelievably well crafted that I wanted to kiss the foreheads of the play and song writers (John Kander and Fred Ebb who did Chicago, Cabaret).
I find it hard, even in today's supposed 'post-racial' society, to convey a sensitive historical issue that is both racially charged and unblinkingly sad. Most people, including Black people, don't want to be reminded of things like that - yet in still 90% of the audience was non-Black at the performance.
Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation and put African-Americans on a 'Separate-but-equal' status, mostly in the American South.
Despite my mother being raised during Jim Crow in the rural countryside of Virginia, I had no prior knowledge of who or what the Scottsboro Boys were (and African-American studies was my minor in college!). Was it after MLK? Before Rosa Parks? I had no context in which to place them and I think the lack of familiarity is what keeps the audience tuned into the story and eager to know the outcome. We all know what happened to MLK and Rosa Parks but what about these boys?
I think telling the tale of the Scottsboro Boys within the framework of a Vaudeville and Minstrelsy show greatly helped to dampen the harshness of the reality of what happened to these boys and in general, violence toward black people during the 1930s and onward i.e. a lot of references to lynching. There is comedy but it also has its fair share of strong silences and drama drenched monologues. If you get the feeling you should be laughing at the end but don't feel its right to do so - you got the right feeling - the uncomfortable-ness, irony and sadness gradually weighs in.
Minstrelsy was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by White and later, Black people in Blackface makeup.
I don't like to reveal too many details because I think going into the play with a clear mind is the best way to go, even if theater and musicals are not your thing. I just know that Trent Armand Kendall who played a motley of distinctive and memorable characters (mostly comedic) from the LA cast was exceptional!