John Kander and Fred Ebb have done it again. They have managed to turn some of the darkest themes into brilliant musicals: Nazis (Cabaret), Latin America repression (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and the dancing murderers of the Cook County jail (Chicago). Now Kander and Ebb have transformed another horrific tale into a powerful and provocative musical with The Scottsboro Boys, based on the real story of nine black teenagers charged with raping two white girls and wrongfully put on death row. Designed to push the audience's level of discomfort to a breaking point, the musical has a song about rape sung by men pretending to be women, a tap-dancing number about electrocution and a menacing tune about "Jew money." It has black men playing cartoonish stereotypes of white racists, and even has black performers singing in blackface. Take the needle off the record! Can you say pushing the envelope? We hear that the musical is brilliant, so we'll reserve judgment on the more controversial elements โ€” for now. It will be interesting to see how this type of tragedy is translated into triumph.

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