Broadway minstrel show provokes protest

Matinee patrons to a Saturday performance of the Broadway musical “The Scottsboro Boys” may have gotten more than they bargained for. The premium tickets promised “a daring and wildly entertaining musical which explores a fascinating chapter in American history.”

Lauded by a wide range of accolades including winning of the best new musical honors, Drama Desk award for outstanding lyrics and four nominations from the Black theater critics and awards presenters of the AUDELCO, the play seemed a comfortable afternoon escape. However, on arrival to the Lyceum Theatre, instead of the usual milling about of anticipated audiences, a protest rally greeted crowds.

Organized by representatives of the Freedom Party, a rally outside protested the blackface images presented as minstrels retelling the injustices of the south where Jim Crow laws imprisoned nine Black males for 15 years despite a lack of evidence of rape of a white woman.

This “musical comedy” makes a mockery of an historic travesty of justice with total disregard for the humanity and suffering of the judicial lynchings that have marred the history of the United States then and now,” Amadi Ajamu, a spokesperson for the Freedom Party stated.

Beginning with an image reflective of Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, the production swells to find happy, Black, youngmen escaping their environs on a freight train. Tense moments heighten the drama and historic presentation when two white women — portrayed by two from the same assembly of Black men — in order to elude arrest for prostitution announce they were raped.

White cops — portaryed by Blacks — present cracker images, southern disdain and a chilling reminder of the way things used to be south of the Mason/Dixon line in America. It was the early 1930s in Alabama, long before Parks sat in protest of a law that prevented her to sit in the front of buses in her hometown. Times were tough then and respectable jobs for Blacks were far and few. The play makes a case for that aspect inserting the reason the ‘boys’ who were total strangers were aboard the train.

As musicals go, song and dance are integral to presenting an entertaining storyline. Needless to say, the cast does justice as thespians who wail, croon, belt and harmonize the most outstanding renditions. Similarly, the light-footed ensemble superbly tap, twirl and dance the most beautiful choreography currently showcased on the Great White Way.

What has riled members of the Black community is the insertion of dark, make-up identified with minstrel shows.

“They are trying to put us in a state of arrested development,” Camille Yarborough, poet, cultural activist and recording artist said.

“Our history should not be minstrelized,” Prof. Leonard Jeffries, City College lecturer said.

“Broadway has gone too far,” Attorney Roger Wareham said.

“It (Scottsboro Boys) is a legal lynching of our history,” Councilman Charles Barron said.

On a recent radio show, a few offended listeners expressed disappointment with the creative team of John Kander and Fred Ebb whose music and lyrics mounted the newest arrival to Broadway two weeks ago. Adapted from a book by David Thompson, the musical offers a sobering nostalgic view of the intense bigotry that marked life in the south.

Ironically, the show has been selling to capacity crowds.

Although there are uncomfortably, off-putting moments, patrons don’t seem disturbed or visibly riled to walk out prematurely. Instead, the cast gets intermittent bursts of applause.

Organizers of the protest fear that productions such as this will “trivialize racism” and foment a tempered perspective of the turbulent era.

More than that, Barron believes with a successful run of productions like these, Broadway could look closer than the 30s to showcase some of the recent brutalities perpetrated against the race.

“Cite the ongoing struggle for justice and reparations for the Central Park 5. Five teenage boys who served up to 15 years in prison for a rape of a white female Wall Street broker they did not commit,” Ajamu conjectured.

“We can not stand by and allow this show to continue without standing up in resistance. It is an atrocity and should be shut down immediately.”

Christmas Spectacular Opens At Radio City

Christmas begins in New York when the world’s most famous, precision dance troupe, the Rockettes kick in the season at Radio city Music Hall. Although, stores and streets are now slowly edging towards adding festive decorations, last Tuesday the annual Christmas Spectacular signalled the start of the holiday. Like the crystal ball dropping each New Years Eve into Times Square, New Yorkers look forward to the pre-Thanksgiving Day gala that convenes at the acoustically-perfect music hall.

Anticipated by tourists and residents alike, a myriad of festive presentations integrate the story of the Nativity, the journey of Santa Claus from the North Pole, a scenic New York travelogue, a historic film document, a 3-D presentation and a wondrous toy story presentation. Live camels arrived a few weeks ago. Joining a menagerie of animals they parade across the stage to the disbelief of wide-eyed children and adults. Opening night is a grand affair. As patrons exited the showplace, a downpour of artificial snow ended the annual, pre-holiday adventure to the newest theatrical showcase.This is the one holiday show every visitor should invest in seeing. The Christmas Spectacular ends on Dec. 30.

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