Let's take a second to refresh the memories of those of you for whom it's been a few years since you took an American History class: The Scottsboro Boys were nine teenage black males who became the stuff of headlines, especially in the liberal media, for years during the 1930s. They were arrested and quickly tried and convicted for rape in the town of Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931, all because two white women who were similarly stowing away aboard a freight train with them accused them of the crime — likely to avoid being punished for "hoboing" themselves. The Scottsboro Boys ranged in age from 12 to 19, and they were convicted and sentenced to death. The claims of the women were ultimately said to be false by one of the women, and the case became a cause celebre of the American Communist Party, and an early example of civil rights activism in the Jim Crow South.

The nine teens spent years in jail, some of them well over a decade, with multiple trials and retrials and Supreme Court interventions, all resulting in the end of all-white juries in the South, and the original seeds of the Civil Rights Movement.

Now, this doesn't sound like the makings of a compelling musical, but, in fact, it is. The Scottsboro Boys, as rendered in song by the famous duo Kander and Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) and acclaimed Broadway director and choreographer Susan Stroman, is a dark, hilarious, rollicking, and riveting musical, despite the meandering and historical nature of the subject matter. It's complex, and did we mention it's dark? And it's an example of modern, experimental stagecraft at its finest.

We already gave you the outlines of the story, but the way it plays out in the score is at times delightful, with the music a mixture of bluegrass, blues, and minstrel-style music with many ironic, tongue-in-cheek minstrel references throughout. The song "Commencing at Chattanooga" gets the show off to a rolling start, and there are some other, stirring, darker numbers that also stick with us, including the mostly a capella "Southern Days." The set by Beowulf Boritt — primarily composed of a set of metal chairs and boards that are variously reconfigured for scene changes, not unlike the experimental stagings of Chicago — is hands-down brilliant.

TV and film star Hal Linden (Barney Miller) plays The Interlocutor, operating as narrator Vaudeville-style MC and portraying multiple characters throughout, including several judges. Also performing as narrators and minstrels throughout (Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo), as well as playing police and other characters, are the multi-talented Jared Joseph and JC Montgomery — Joseph, especially is an astounding performer with a terrific voice to rival any Broadway star. The nine actors playing the Scottsboro Boys also play multiple roles, including the roles of the two white women accusers, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. They are all extremely talented, versatile performers and it's hard to pick any favorites, however Clifton Duncan who plays the lead role of Haywood Patterson is especially compelling to watch, and his voice is chillingly good.

Essentially, if you're a fan of musicals and weren't familiar with this one and its 12 Tony nominations, you have to see this. It's a fantastic show that's destined to become a classic of the musical-theater canon.

The Scottsboro Boys, which was just extended, is playing at ACT through July 22. Get tickets here.