Scottsboro Boys – who knew? and now that we do ….

The Scottsboro Boys, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Susan Stroman; Philadelphia Theatre Company, Suzanne Roberts Theater, Jan. 27-Feb. 19. Review of Feb. 15 & post-show talk for WRTI, 90. 1 fm.

One performance has been added to the riveting, disturbing, powerful The Scottsboro Boys by the Philadelphia Theatre Company Sunday evening. It follows (2/19) the scheduled final matinee at the Suzanne Roberts Theater.  PTC would like to extend the successful musical much longer but Forest McClendon who doubles as Mr. Tambo and Samuel Leibowitz is unavailable after Sunday night. And McClendon is pivotal in the Kander, Ebb and Susan Stroman musical about the Alabama youth who in 1931 were wrongly convicted of a sex crime they did not commit. PTC’s ensemble (which employs many from the original Broadway cast) is a marvel but McClendon who was up for a Tony for the Broadway production of The Scottsboro Boys must be seen. A black man playing a white Jewish lawyer with an Al Jolson accent. That’s rich.

The irony in this musical which switches from vaudeville to minstrel and dances into heartbreak. Ron Holgate plays the Southern Interlocutor who’s clueless instructing ‘his’ men.  Nile Bullock is the youngest Scottsboro, an 11-year- old wonder-dancer. Rodney Hicks gives an inward portrayal of Heywood Patterson who dies in prison but not before writing the Scottsboros’ story.

Philadelphia Theatre Company usually offers good post-show discussions but Wednesday’s “Race, Justice & Wrongful Convictions” was exceptional. A panel included the Honorable Louis Pollack and leaders of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project… Pollack’s father, Walter, was the presiding Supreme Court advocate  in the landmark cases that arose out of the Scottsboro tragedy.

Louis Pollack is himself history for (among other extraordinary credits) he worked on the Supreme Court’s case, Brown vs. Education.  Wednesday’s presentation as long as the Scottsboro musical itself, was packed. It’s heartening to hear the good work being done (pro bono) to change the system – but so much more needs doing. Men of color are falsely accused every day.

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