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The Scottsboro Boys

Album Summary

>Ebb, Fred : The Scottsboro Boys, musical play
Performers Conductor Ensemble
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Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Clinton Recording Studios, New York (04/23/2010).

It can take a musical a long time to reach Broadway. When lyricist Fred Ebb died in 2004, he and his composing partner John Kander had last had a show on Broadway with 1997's Steel Pier, but they had several projects in various stages of completion. One of these was Curtains, which reached Broadway in 2007. Another is The Scottsboro Boys, which had an Off-Broadway production represented by this cast recording and released as the show was preparing to transfer to Broadway in 2010. One characteristic of Kander & Ebb musicals is a tendency to tell stories, sometimes dark stories, within the frame of some show business form. Thus, Cabaret, although it is about the rise of Nazism, is set partly in a nightclub, and Chicago, a tale of murder and celebrity, is set within a burlesque production. To tell the story of the Scottsboro boys, the nine black youths who were unjustly convicted of rape in Alabama in the '30s, Kander & Ebb hit upon the odd theatrical frame of the minstrel show, odd because minstrel shows predate the era of the Scottsboro boys by 30 years or so. Nevertheless, the characters are seen first in their minstrel roles, then in the story itself, with the music adhering to the popular styles of the late 19th century, including ragtime and cakewalk. (About halfway through, Kander starts slipping into his comfort zone of '20s jazz sounds, which may be inconsistent, but at least it's closer to the real time period of the show.) Actually, there is even a frame around the frame, since the minstrel show seems to be occurring in the memory of a woman waiting for a bus who turns out to be Rosa Parks, instigator of the Montgomery bus boycott for Civil Rights in the '50s. This may all seem like a bit too much framing, but at least it gives Kander & Ebb a handle on making a musical out of an extremely dark story in American history. Multiple trials and the recantation of one of the alleged victims do not set the young men free, and the show follows a downward trajectory; but at least the music is lively. Of course, many of the same aspects can be found in Chicago, if not the racial angle. The performers, almost all of them male, even playing most of the female parts, are accomplished, and there are some excellent Kander & Ebb songs here. No doubt some viewers, as well as listeners, will find the minstrel show format off-putting with its connotations of racism, but then racism is the point of this musical, and the creators have found a variety of ways to immerse their audience in it. ~ William Ruhlmann


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Works Details

>Ebb, Fred : The Scottsboro Boys, musical play
  • Performers: Julius Thomas (Voice); Kendrick Jones (Voice); Greg Utzig (Harmonica); Greg Utzig (Ukulele); Greg Utzig (Banjo); Greg Utzig (Mandolin); Greg Utzig (Guitar); Charley Gordon (Trombone); Colman Domingo (Voice); Josh Breckenridge (Voice); Forrest McClendon (Voice); Rodney Hicks (Voice); Derrick Cobey (Voice); Sean Bradford (Voice); Sharon Washington (Voice); Justin Smith (Violin); Bruce Doctor (Drums); Bruce Doctor (Percussion); Paul Masse (Harmonium); Paul Masse (Piano); John Cullum (Voice); Ernie Collins (Tuba); Ernie Collins (Voice); Brandon Dixon (Voice); Cody Wise (Voice); Christian White (Voice); Andrew Sterman (Clarinet); Andrew Sterman (Piccolo); Andrew Sterman (Flute); Don Downs (Trumpet); Don Downs (Cornet)
  • Conductor: Paul Masse
  • Notes: This work was written in collaboration with John Kander (1927 - ).
  • Running Time: 52 min. 23 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern