Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre

The Scottsboro Boys
Garrick Theatre
Reviewed on Monday 20th October 2014

Last year The Scottsboro Boys took theatreland by storm when it received its UK premiere at the Young Vic. Word of mouth couldn't have been stronger and people were doing anything they could to get tickets. I smugly had mine pinned up on the noticeboard, but sadly something unavoidable came up at the last minute which meant I was no longer able to see the show. Therefore, along with all those who couldn't see The Scottsboro Boys first time around, I was thrilled when producers confirmed that Kander and Ebb's final musical, which premiered off-Broadway in 2010, would be transferring to the West End.

As a reviewer luckily it's not often I find myself lost for words, but as I left the Garrick Theatre last night I struggled to gather my thoughts. The Scottsboro Boys really is something else. It remarkably tells an incredibly harrowing story in a way which doesn’t depress its audience. Unlike when I saw The Color Purple last year, I didn't leave a blubbering mess; instead I was deep in thought, but equally as blown away. 

The musical tells the true story of nine young black men who were falsely accused of rape in the 1930s. The eldest was 19 whilst the youngest was just 12. They were accused by two white women who were travelling on a train through Scottsboro, Alabama. The countless trials which followed divided the nation. 

When a musical like The Scottsboro Boys comes along which dares to be different I try not to give too much away. I sat in my seat knowing nothing about the style or the way in which the story would be told, and I think that should be the same for everyone. The West End has been crying out for a musical like The Scottsboro Boys to come along for ages. It is such a bold and cleverly crafted piece of theatre, all the risks which have been taken most certainly pay off.

Kander and Ebb's score is dazzling! The big numbers have the feel of a spectacular Broadway musical. The design is perfectly simple; it is only the cast's beautiful storytelling which makes this show so powerful. Countless songs stand out, but the one which really struck a chord within me was 'Go Back Home'. I sat back and watched Brandon Victor Dixon (who reprises his performance from the original off-Broadway production) give an absolute masterclass. The entire cast – some of whom are established Broadway and West End performers, whilst others are fresh out of drama school – are all beyond phenomenal. They couldn't perform with more heart and soul.

It always annoys me when a musical outstays its welcome. As the piece concluded I thought it was over, but then I saw the cast setting up for another scene. Just as I began to fear The Scottsboro Boys was about to outstay its welcome, something happened which clicked everything into place, making the musical about ten times more powerful. For the first time in a very long time every hair on my body shot up. Of course I’m not going to give anything away, but the ending is quite something. 

It's not very often that a musical comes along and shakes everything up. It's also not very often that such a special show finds its way to the West End. I'm sure The Scottsboro Boys will divide opinions and people will react very differently. I was transfixed from beginning to end; I have never seen anything else vaguely similar to The Scottsboro Boys, and I doubt I will ever again.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Scottsboro Boys runs at the Garrick Theatre until Saturday 21st February 2015.
Please visit www.scottsboromusicallondon.com for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

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