Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 9, 2019

REVIEW: Playhouse On Park, The Scottsboro Boys

Playhouse On Park, West Hartford, CT
through August 4, 2019
by Josephine Sarnelli

Playhouse On Park proudly describes itself as “nestled … in West Hartford, where the parking is free, the actors are right off Broadway and the back row is just four seats from the stage.” The intimacy of the small theatre was felt immediately as the cast of “The Scottsboro Boys” came rushing in to shake hands with members of the audience and board a train.  

The term that comes to mind to describe the performers is “triple threat” because they were all excellent actors, singers and dancers. The eight-piece band added to the richness and quality of this musical.

Photo by Meredith Longo
As with “Les Misérables” and “Hamilton,” it was difficult to imagine the dramatic subject matter of “The Scottsboro Boys” as a musical. It is based on the 1931 unjust arrest in Scottsboro, Alabama of nine young African American men for the rape of two white women on a train. By masterfully setting the story within a minstrel show, the playwright created a natural venue for revealing one of America’s ugliest injustices.

Troy Valjean Rucker, as Haywood Patterson, sings several outstanding solos. He portrays a man of great depth, who is both admired and disdained by his peers and people in authority. But he clearly wins the hearts of the American people, and the audience, during his numerous trials.          

The continuing theme of “truth” weaves throughout the play. It is the untrue statements made by Victoria Price and Ruby Bates that lead to the arrest of the nine men. Jaylan Evans, as Ruby Bates, does a wonderful job of recanting the original lie….only to find that the truth is not believed by the jury. The question of truth once more arises at the end of the performance, as Haywood Patterson refuses to lie to having committed the crime. His lawyer explains that he must confess to having done it, so as to be pardoned. In contradiction to the biblical passage, the lawyer tells Patterson that  “the truth will not set him free.”  

The trio of Trishawn Paul, Alex Robinson and Jerry Hamilton executed a superb traditional tap routine. Likewise, the production numbers exhibit high energy, good dance technique, and skillful choreography.

Of note is the one character on stage who is mute throughout the performance and identified simply as “The Lady.” She speaks the last words of the play….while sitting aboard a bus.