"You create a show and you feel very fortunate if you've affected people in the audience," director/choreographer Susan Stroman explained. "You can be in the back of an audience and see people put their arms around each other. This particular show starts a discussion after it's over, and that means the world to us."
So it's back to rural Alabama for the Los Angeles premiere of The Scottsboro Boys, which bowed earlier this month at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre. Stroman returned to craft a new production — her fifth time at the helm since the show's world premiere at the Vineyard Theatre in the spring of 2010. She will also build the London production slated to open at the Young Vic in October. The Ahmanson run features all key members of the original design team. Composer John Kander took part in the New York rehearsals before the company headed West, and he will venture out to see the L.A. production midway through its four-week run.
"I miss them," the 86-year old Kander said of the L.A. actors. "Anybody working on this show will tell you the same thing. It's a very emotional experience bringing all these people together and watching them turn themselves into these guys."
Stroman's L.A. cast was a blend of "boys" from productions past and present, led by the Tony Award-nominated Joshua Henry as Haywood Patterson. Christian Dante White, also from the Broadway company, returned as Charles Weems and Victoria Price, and several more came from the 2012 Scottsboro co-production between San Diego's Old Globe Theatre and San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre (ACT). Their ranks included Hal Linden, who took over the role of the Interlocutor in San Francisco and re-upped for the Los Angeles run.
Linden, who made his Broadway debut in the original production of Bells are Ringing in 1958, said that the talent of the performers in The Scottsboro Boys is off the charts.
"I started out in musical theatre, and these kids today, they sing better, dance better and certainly act better than we ever did," said Linden, a Tony Award winner for The Rothschilds in 1971. "Maybe we set the pattern for them, but they learned from it and they are sensational. Watching Trent Kendall (Mr. Bones) and JC Montgomery (Mr. Tambo) do that opening number every night where they're dancing with the boys…they're not fooling around. Thank God they didn't ask me to do it."
Kendall — whose character, Mr. Bones, hops through a veritable grab-bag of lawmen, attorneys and prison guards — is a Scottsboro first-timer. He auditioned for the original company and has tracked the role of Mr. Bones ever since. Taking on the role that earned Colman Domingo a Tony nomination, Kendall has drawn praise from both Stroman and Kander for his clowning skills.
Any praise, he said, is hard-earned. "Stroman's team…I have never worked with more demanding, yet at the same time, more gracious and supporting people," he said. "They're taskmasters. They want it clean, they want it right, and they pull no punches about saying, 'No, we need to do that again and clean that up,' but the way it's delivered is not any way that strips you down or makes you feel judged."
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