The Scottsboro Boys (Original Cast Recording) (Jay Records)
John Kander and Fred Ebb's score for this daring new musical is lovingly preserved on this 20-track original Off-Broadway cast recording. Listeners will most likely find themselves sucked in by the opening strains of a banjo and then, as the disc progresses, Kander's jaunty, period-sounding tunes, which range from cakewalks to New Orleans jazz to gospel-like numbers, will have toes tapping, even as the team's lyrics create slight discomfiture.
The subject matter for the musical is certainly not easy. It chronicles the real-life story of nine African-American men, who, falsely accused of raping two white women, find themselves railroaded by the justice system in 1930s Alabama. The manner in which the creators have chosen to tell the story is equally challenging: the history is reenacted as if it were a minstrel show.
At the center of the production are a quartet of exceptional performances: John Cullum serves as The Interlocutor, the piece's host, and his smarmily cheerful turn sounds great on the disc. Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon play Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, respectively, tackling a variety of roles with satiric gusto. Last but not least, Brandon Victor Dixon (who does not appear in the Broadway production) delivers forcibly as Haywood Patterson, one of the accused who refuses to be beaten by the system.
The songs are all ear-catching, but there are a few decided highlights. "Go Back Home" is one of the most haunting ballads that Kander's written in years, and it's heard twice on this disc, thanks to a bonus track featuring the composer himself. The funniest song comes early on when Christian Dante White and Sean Bradford, playing the accusers, defend their "virtue" in "Alabama Ladies," and by far the creepiest, but curiously satisfying, number is "Electric Chair," which finds the company tap-dancing as they proclaim "What a fab-yu-lous way/To die."
The disc is accompanied by a full-color booklet that includes a synopsis from bookwriter David Thompson, brief notes from Kander, lyrics for the songs, and plenty of color photographs, all of which may whet one's appetite for the production.
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