The Scottsboro Boys Review 2014
Sometimes theatre critics do get it right: the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards judged the UK premiere of Kander and Ebb's 2010 Broadway show The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic to be the best musical that was seen in London last year - beating out the West End transfers of two bigger Broadway hits, The Book of Mormon and Once.
And now that it has returned to London in a belated transfer to the Garrick, it is probably going to be the best musical that will be seen in the West End this year, too.
As I wrote here on London Theatre when I reviewed it previously at the Young Vic, "This show is significant not just for being the only show in Kander and Ebb's extensive canon to be built primarily around black characters, but also because it takes the framing devices already familiar from Cabaret and Chicago of setting their narratives against a backdrop of cabaret or vaudeville respectively to adopt a far more historically disquieting one. It adopts the uncomfortable form of the minstrel show -- which had white performers using black-face to imitate black people -- to have black actors pretending to be white to pretend to be black."
And as I continued to say, "That puts a satirical and disturbing distance between its chastening true story of a wrongful accusation that destroyed the lives of its nine young black defendants, aged just 13 to 19, to stand it on its head."
There are layers upon layers to unpack here, but the miraculous thing is that Susan Stroman's production makes your head want to explode with delight as well as horror. You watch it with a combination of appalled fascination and sheer joy. The show duly has its cake and eats it - or rather, it has its cake-walk and makes you want to dance it, beautifully honouring the lives whose true stories it tells and the injustice that it exposes.
A stunning cast of Broadway originals, including Forrest McClendon, Colman Domingo, Brandon Victor Dixon and James T Lane, are vibrantly joined by local performers who are every bit their equal.
An absolute stunner - and completely unmissable.
"The score doesn’t have the earworm catchiness of Kander and Ebb’s best shows, and dazzles more than it delights. But this is a genuinely radical musical, full of stinging indignation and plaintive power."
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
"Audacious and troubling, it is delivered with brilliant precision here. Tap-dancing through a number about the electric chair, harmonising in a spiritual that slips in a line about lynching, the cast perform with tremendous verve and handle Stroman’s choreography with split-second timing."
Sarah Hemming for The Financial Times
"This is a hurtling journey into hell; I urge you to buy a ticket. John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 2010 musical, seen at the Young Vic last year, is a shocking experience — the more so because it is also irresistibly entertaining."
Sam Marlowe for The Times
"The music is magnificent, a stirring, period-specific mixture of gospel, jazz and vaudeville. The plaintive lament Go Back Home is especially memorable, but on the whole the songs are jovial and up-tempo in a deliberate undercutting of the seriousness of the storyline."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard