Scottsboro's John Kander and David Thompson Had Moved On After Closing; Tony Windfall a "Shock"

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27 May 2011

John Kander and David Thompson
John Kander and David Thompson
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The premature closing of a show is the kind of event that can throw a dramatist into a self-protective mood. That's exactly what happened with composer John Kander and librettist David Thompson after the Broadway staging of The Scottsboro Boys shuttered after just 49 performances in fall 2010.

All that work for such a short run? Will the show be lost to history? These questions were on Kander's mind, he said. He shut out all of those thoughts and moved on.

"Denial is a wonderful thing," Kander told Playbill.com. "In my head, it had gotten settled: 'Well, that was over — I'm not going to think about it anymore.' I think that was, in various ways, true for all of us."

So imagine Kander's joy — and the joy of director-choreographer Susan Stroman and librettist Thompson — when less than five months later they learned that The Scottsboro Boys had been nominated for 12 Tony Awards. It's the second most-nominated 2010-11 show behind The Book of Mormon.

"Without knowing it, we had put the piece to bed," Kander said. "It's like, 'O.K., we've had that experience, it was a wonderful experience, and it's over."



"We're in a state of shock," Thompson said. "For somebody to say 'you did a god job' months later, it was overwhelming."

The nominations would seem to indicate that The Scottsboro Boys — an ambitious, satiric, sometimes harrowing musical about racial injustice told using the frame of a minstrel show — will find a future life in theatres. (Fred Ebb, Kander's lyricist on the project, died in 2004.)

Tony nominees Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon
photo by Paul Kolnik

Kander said, "Yes, it sounds very egotistical, and I don't mean it that way, [but] I think it will become part of American theatrical literature, and I think it will be done. And that makes me very, very happy and very proud."

Coinciding with the May 3 announcement of the Tony nominations was the revelation that two regional not-for-profit theatres in California (The Old Globe and American Conservatory Theatre) will partner to reunite the Broadway creative team and cast for the 2012 West Coast premiere of The Scottsboro Boys. Other regionals are expected to stage the musical in 2012-13.

The show had two resident developmental productions at not-for-profit theatres prior to the commercial Broadway run: first at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre and Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater. Thompson and Kander said they think the show belongs in regional theatre, where audiences are more attuned to the idea of risk.

Thompson said, "We like the idea of going to a theatre where you have an audience that's committed to the theatre. We discovered at the Guthrie and at the Vineyard that those audiences are really ready for the journey. It's an important thing with this one. It's not an easy one. The idea of going to regional theatres is great."

Kander added, "We had no idea what we were in for when we went to the Guthrie. People flocked to see the piece. It's a smart, smart audience that is used to being in the theatre."

The writers agreed that the difference between the audience at the not-for-profit Vineyard and the audience on Broadway is that it took Broadway audiences about 30 minutes to digest the concept of the show, but at the Vineyard audiences grabbed it in the first 12 minutes.

Read Playbill.com's account of the final Broadway performance of The Scottsboro Boys

View highlights from the show: