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Kander and Ebb's "The Scottsboro Boys" at the Vineyard Theatre
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Kander and Ebb's "The Scottsboro Boys" at the Vineyard Theatre

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Vineyard Theatre
Douglas Aibel, Artistic Director
Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell, Exec. Director

The Scottsboro Boys
(Scottsboro Boys Trials)

At the
Vineyard Theatre
(Vineyard Theatre Website)
Gertrude and Irving Dimson Theatre
108 East 15th Street
NY, NY 10003

Music and Lyrics by
John Kander and Fred Ebb
(Kander and Ebb Bios)
Book by David Thompson

Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman

Sean Bradford, Josh Breckenridge, Derrick Cobey,
John Cullum, Brandon Victor Dixon, Colman Domingo,
Rodney Hicks, Kendrick Jones, Forrest McClendon, Julius Thomas III,
Sharon Washington, Cody Ryan Wise, Christian Dante White

Musicians: Ernie Collins, Bruce Doctor, Donald Downs,
Charley Gordon, Justin Smith, Andrew Sterman, Greg Utzig

Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Music Direction & Vocal Arrangements: David Loud
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Conductor: Paul Masse
Music Arrangements: Glen Kelly
Music Coordinator: John Monaco
Production Stage Manager: Megan Smith
Production Manager: Ben Morris
General Manager: Reed Ridgley
Casting: Jim Carnahan CSA & Stephen Kopel
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet
Press: Sam Rudy Media
Assoc. Artistic Director: Sarah Stern

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 15, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys, the unfinished docu-musical, by the incomparable duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb, has been produced by the Vineyard Theatre, with none other than Susan Stroman (The Producers, Contact, Double Feature) directing and choreographing. The story dates back to Scottsboro, Alabama, 1931-1937, when nine black teenagers were framed in a false rape trial, concerning two white prostitutes who hid on a train. One can imagine the mood of that moment and the hyped histrionics of the trial. One can also wonder at the wisdom of putting music to this maelstrom. The Vineyard Theatre has, incredibly, matched choreographic vigor to impassioned virtue, with Kander and Ebb’s poignant music and lyrics. This show is a charismatic success.

Beowulf Boritt’s painted silver chairs and stark floor boards make up the set, as train, prison, courtroom, and even, yes, an electric chair are smoothly shifted about with Kevin Adams’ spotlighted scenes. Sharon Washington, a one-woman, silent Greek Chorus, sits alone on a chair, as if she’s thinking the story we’re to be told. Soon Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, a Minstrel duo, appear in colorful costume, introduced by John Cullum, the Interlocutor, or storyteller, with Ms. Washington’s expression and demeanor revealing the sad truth behind Mr. Cullum’s jolly hyperbole. With clever, uncluttered stage design and direction, we are immediately aware of the duality of the unfolding drama.

The nine Scottsboro Boys, led by Brandon Victor Dixon, an artist to watch, are intense and inspirational in their spoken and sung, sorrowful segments. They exude courage and faith in the system, as their attorney, Samuel Leibowitz (Forrest McClendon) comes onboard. Leibowitz’ “That’s Not the Way We Do Things” is actually a witty, savvy treatise on the power of politics and cash on the fate of his clients. Interacting in these crooked, courtroom shenanigans are Colman Domingo, as Sheriff, Lawyer, Guard, Attorney General, Clerk, and Minstrel Bones. Forrest McClendon takes on, in addition to Leibowitz and Minstrel Tambo, Deputy, Lawyer, and Guard. The prostitutes are played by male actors, Christian Dante White and Sean Bradford.

Paul Masse leads the eight-piece, offstage band, with Bruce Doctor’s soulful percussion so poignantly persistent. Toni-Leslie James’ white prison costumes are brilliantly conceived, symbolizing the purity of those oppressed nine youths. Peter Hylenski’s sound enhances nuanced songs, virulent dance, and elegantly spoken words. The musical arrangement and orchestration team of Glen Kelly, Larry Hochman, David Loud, Paul Masse, and John Monaco met the challenge of maintaining the moral weight of David Thompson’s book with Kander and Ebb’s music and lyrics. Susan Stroman deserves kudos for such a thoughtfully directed production of such a provocative historical tale.

at the Vineyard Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

at the Vineyard Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Derrick Cobey, Julius Thomas III,
Brandon Victor Dixon, Josh Breckenridge
at the Vineyard Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

at the Vineyard Theatre
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at