Porchlight Music Theatre Presents THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS Review – Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Editor’s Note:  Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.

Have you ever been accused of something that was demonstrably false? There is no way you could have done whatever it is, but there is also no way for you to prove it? No matter how hard you try, no one is willing to believe you.

This is the story of the Scottsboro Boys —nine black teenagers falsely accused of a crime they didn’t commit and their lives are changed forever.

Porchlight Music Theatre Tells the Story of the historic Scottsboro trials

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is based on the true story of nine black Southern boys in 1931 as they hopped on a train in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The show opens with a mysterious woman sitting down front and center on stage 

The events are tweaked from the original history a bit where instead of the Scottsboro boys almost getting kicked off the train by white boys, they and two white prostitutes are found on the train by a sheriff.

In order to avoid arrest, the two prostitutes accuse the boys of raping them. They get away scot-free and the boys are arrested. In their first trial, all nine boys are found guilty and sentenced to death.

Porchlight Music Theatre THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
Mark J.P. Hood as Mr Tambo Photos: Kelsey Jorissen

Luckily, the Supreme Court intervenes and the boys are given a chance at a fair trial. Enter Samuel Leibowitz, a Jewish lawyer from the North sent to defend the boys. They go through nine trials where the jury finds them guilty every time, even after one of the women admits the boys are innocent. Eventually, four of the boys are found innocent.   The others suffer various fates either in prison or outside if they had been paroled.

Play Within A Play Within A Play

The telling of the Scottsboro tale is framed by the mysterious woman’s thoughts and as a minstrel show. The minstrel show is a white man directing these black men and telling them how to act. This  works well because, much like the white jurors serving on these trials who controlled the fate of the boys,  the one white man seemingly controls the boys as his “minstrels.” We, the audience, see just how corrupt the system is.

Porchlight Music Theatre THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
Denzel Tsopnang as Mr. Bones, Larry Yando as The Interlocutor and Mark J.P. Hood as Mr Tambo Photos: Kelsey Jorissen
Porchlight Music Theatre THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
James Earl Jones II as Haywood Patterson Photos: Kelsey Jorissen

Outstanding Vocals

Heywood Patterson is the most prominent Scottsboro boy.  His story how the supposed justice system failed him. James Earl Jones II plays Patterson with such gumption it feels like he is putting every ounce of fight within him into his character.

The first song he sings, Commencing in Chattanooga (see video below), packs a wallop and gives us a taste of his phenomenal vocal skills. Every other song Jones sings is similarly filled with emotion that plunges straight into heart.  Jones is phenomenal!

The rest of the cast also has their shining moments. They can harmonize and blend like none other.. Mark J.P. Hood as Mr Tambo almost steals the show with his over-the-top comedic styling and ability to seamlessly shift and change into multiple characters.

Great Set Design by Andrei Onegin

Andrei Onegin has created an interactive set design  The cast is  able to climb on the rafters sitting on different levels at different script moments.  A moving train car in the background serves as a constant reminder of how the boys got mixed up in this situation. Meanwhile  projections on the back screen complement the story.

Final Moments Bring Us to the Present

It’s not all fun, song and dance.  With many light moments, the script nonetheless conveys the seriousness of its subject matter.

The final scene shows the Scottsboro Boys’ actual photographs projected on the back wall. IT reminds that these were actual people who were treated so unjustly. To bring us more in touch with these realities, their faces are joined with other faces of black men who have been similarly murdered unjustly in recent years.


Porchlight Music Theatre THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS
The cast of Porchlight Music Theatre’s The Scottsboro Boys Photos: Kelsey Jorissen


This story is one that should be told. This is the world we are living in today— a world in which people still have to worry how the color of their skin will determine how they are treated. THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS highlights everything that is still wrong about  racial justice today. The fight is not over.  One day the truth will hopefully prevail.



Note:  An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.


Now through March 12th

Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
There is an added matinee performance Thursday, March 2 at 1:30 p.m.
There is no Thursday 7:30pm performance March 2


Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657



$45 - $51
Single tickets may be purchased at 773.327.5252 or at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org


Kelsey Jorissen

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