Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Scottsboro Boys
Playhouse on Park
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Into the Woods, A Raisin in the Sun and A Human Being, of a Sort

The Cast of The Scottsboro Boys
Photo by Meredith Longo
Playhouse on Park is currently presenting an electrifying production of The Scottsboro Boys. With a book by David Thompson, based on real-life events that occurred in the 1930s, and a marvelous score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, The Scottsboro Boys can be a tough and disturbing show. One of the best things about this staging is that the musical is presented unflinchingly, without backing down from the darker elements. The cast is uniformly wonderful, with a particularly strong performance by Troy Valjean Rucker in the role of Haywood.

This production draws its power from many different sources, with casting being a key part of what makes it so good. The structure of this musical is that of a minstrel show, with such characters as "The Interlocutor," "Mr. Bones," and "Mr. Tambo." Except for Dennis Holland, doing an excellent job as The Interlocutor, the cast is African-American and almost all male, although they sometimes take on Caucasian and/or female characters, with the aid of Vilinda McGregor's astounding costuming.

While one might think that imposing this style of a Minstrel show could distance the audience from the actors, and their characters, this devise actually works very well. The audience comes to care very much for all of the people in this show, which makes the harshness of the story all the more heartbreaking. While Troy Valjean Rucker is a standout in the company, there are uniformly impressive performances by Ivory McKay as Mr. Bones, and Torrey Linder as Mr. Tambo. The cast work as a true ensemble, with everyone doing near flawless work in their portrayals. "The Lady," played by Renee J. Sutherland, haunts the show from beginning to end, with almost no dialogue and just a little bit of dancing. When Sutherland does finally speak, at the very end of the show, she delivers a knockout punch.

Director Sean Harris has done a Herculean job staging the show, with a sharpness that is spellbinding. His work is matched by masterful choreography by Darlene Zoller. Just about all the elements come together perfectly, and if The Scottsboro Boys will not be for all tastes, because of its frightening nature, it certainly is quite an achievement for Playhouse on Park and ranks as one of the most successful shows that I have ever seen at this regional theatre.

The scenic design by David Lewis is spare yet magnificent, with equally fine lighting design by Johann Fitzpatrick. The choreography by Darlene Zoller is awesome and sometimes, appropriately, frightening. The off-stage orchestra, with expert music direction by Melanie Guerin, does a great job playing John Kander and Fred Ebb's incredible score (with the matchless original orchestrations by Larry Hochman).

Playhouse on Park's The Scottsboro Boys is one of those shows that will linger in your mind long after you see it.

The Scottsboro Boys, through August 4, 2019, at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd., West Hartford CT. For tickets, please visit or call the box office at 860-523-5900.