The Scottsboro Boys, a product of the prodigious team of John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago), is no sunny, hum-along musical. The final collaboration between the two before Ebb passed away in 2004, it’s based on the true story of nine black teen boys who, in 1931 in Alabama, were accused of the rape of two white women. It’s also staged as a musical within a minstrel show, an intentionally subversive touch that pulls no sociopolitical punches. One might have foreseen that in spite of its success at Minneapolis’ noted Guthrie Theatre and an Off-Broadway stage, the show closed at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway after only 29 previews and 49 regular performances.
A year and a half after its disappointing reception on the Great White Way, The Scottsboro Boys is getting new life at the Old Globe Theatre, again under the skilled direction of Susan Stroman (The Producers), who also created the show’s choreography. David Thompson (Steel Pier, Flora the Red Menace) wrote the book. Even with a fresh start and all the heavyweight talent behind it, The Scottsboro Boys is still a difficult and painful story to tell with music, and its intentions to enlighten, shock and parody, all in one two-hour act, make for a bumpy ride.
Its potency is in the Scottsboro Boys’ ensemble numbers, including “Shout!,” “Chain Gang” and both “Make Friends with the Truth” and “You Can’t Do Me,” those two led by the charismatic Clifton Duncan as Haywood Patterson. He’s the story’s conscience and its beacon of courage. On the other hand, numbers such as “Electric Chair,” in which the youngest of the accused (Nile Bullock) is taunted and given a taste of electrification by two “comically” devious prison guards, are uneasy. And the arrival of the youths’ second attorney Samuel Leibowitz, belting out “That’s Not the Way We Do Things,” is a spirited but obvious crowd pleaser.
This Scottsboro Boys may strain for a consistent tone much of the way, but it soars as it nears its finish, with a minstrel-makeup sequence that’s both daring and defiant, and a quietly stirring passing of the civil rights torch to Rosa Parks.
The Scottsboro Boys runs through June 10 at the Old Globe Theatre.
Master Harold... and the Boys: Teenage stage and film actor and San Diego native Austyn Myers has formed a new company, Living Light Theatre, and for its first show, Myers has chosen this play about the relationship between a white 17-year-old and two black servants in Apartheidera South Africa. It opens May 11 in the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza, Downtown.
No Child…: InnerMission Productions and the Mesa College Drama Department present Nilaja Sun’s humorous and topical take on education in a low-income community, written as a one-woman show but performed here by a full cast. It opens May 12 and runs through May 20 at the Apolliad Theatre at Mesa College.
Trying: It’s the late 1960s and a young secretary is trying to help former Attorney General Francis Biddle get his affairs in order as he tries to cope with old age. Opens May 11 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista.
Chicago: You know Christie Brinkley from Sport Illustrated swimsuit covers, a failed celebrity marriage and a role as a hottie in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Now you can see her as Roxie Hart in this Prohibition-era musical. Runs through May 13 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown.
Late Nite Catechism: The participatory solo comedy by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan turns 20 years old this year. Through May 19 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido.
Topdog / Underdog: Ion Theatre borrows Moxie Theatre’s Delicia Turner Sonnenberg to direct this dark-comic tale of rivalry between two brothers, jokingly named Lincoln and Booth. Through May 20 at BLK BOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest.
Stepping Out: Amateur dancers are invited to perform at a big party in this upbeat comedy. Are they up to the task? Through May 20 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido.
Grease: You know the story: Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy pretends not to like girl. Girl pretends to be slutty to get boy back. Singing. Dancing. The ’50s. Through May 26 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.
Brownie Points: Deborah Gilmour Smyth directs the Southern California premiere of this new play about five women who discover themselves and each other while on a field trip with their daughters, who are never seen by the audience. Through May 27 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it runs through May 27 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown.
The Scottsboro Boys: The Scottsboro Boys were nine black kids charged with raping two white girls in Alabama in 1931, and their case was representative of racism in the criminal-justice system. The Scottsboro Boys is a musical based on their story. Through June 10 at the Old Globe in Balboa Park.
Hands on a Hardbody: A musical based on a documentary? Yep. This Playhouse-commissioned play is about 10 contestants trying to win a truck in a battle of endurance, with music by Amanda Green and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. Through June 17 at La Jolla Playhouse.
Respect: A Musical Journey of Women: The evolution of women’s role in society is explored through past top-40 hits in this upbeat musical. Through June 24 at the Lyceum Stage at Horton Plaza.
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.