Scottsboro Boys, Kander & Ebb Musical About an American Shame, Opens Off-Broadway

By Kenneth Jones
10 Mar 2010

Brandon Victor Dixon
Brandon Victor Dixon
Photo by Carol Rosegg

The Scottsboro Boys, the new John Kander and Fred Ebb musical that takes a flashpoint in American Civil Rights history and makes it sing, dance and sting, opens Off-Broadway March 10 at the Vineyard Theatre.

Along with Curtains, this is a show that lyricist Ebb did not live to see fully produced; he died in 2004. As with their Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman, composer Kander and lyricist Ebb's new show has social justice in its heart, salty lyrics on its tongue and rhythmic vamps from the band all in a framework unlike anything seen in the modern musical. (For the record, the program indicates "music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb," suggesting that Kander penned some latter-day words as the show continued to develop without his longtime collaborator.)

Tony Award winner Susan Stroman directs and choreographs the production, which features John Cullum, Brandon Victor Dixon and Colman Domingo in a cast of 13.

Previews began Feb. 12. The musical was extended by two weeks to April 18.

The fact-inspired show is about nine black teenagers accused of a crime against white women a crime they didn't commit in 1931 Alabama. According the Vineyard, "The Scottsboro Boys is a new musical that explores the infamous 1930s 'Scottsboro Case', in which a group of innocent African-American teenagers are falsely accused of a terrible crime ultimately provoking a national outrage that sparked the American Civil Rights movement."



As has been widely reported, Ebb, composer Kander and librettist David Thompson tell their story within the framework of a minstrel show, the classic and defunct American entertainment in which white men wore blackface and offered scenes, jokes and songs in a display of grotesque stereotype. Except for John Cullum, The Scottsboro Boys company is made up entirely of African-American performers. For those who don't know the rules or structure of a minstrel show (and even for those who do), the musical is sure to prompt discussion about this post-modern take on the form. As was pointed out in a recent post-show talkback at the Vineyard, the writing team is made up of white men; the effect (and perhaps goal) of their work, however, is that the power and truth of the Scottsboro tale is now firmly in the hands of African-American storytellers in the form of the tight-knit, harmonizing ensemble.

The cast includes Sean Bradford, Josh Breckenridge, Derrick Cobey, Rodney Hicks, Kendrick Jones, Forrest McClendon, Julius Thomas III, Sharon Washington, Cody Ryan Wise and Christian Dante White.

The show reunites Stroman (The Producers), Kander, Thompson and the Vineyard, which previously presented the revival of Flora, The Red Menace. Kander, Thompson, Ebb and Stroman also created the Broadway musical Steel Pier.

Cullum (Urinetown, Shenandoah), Dixon (The Color Purple, Ray Charles Live!) and Domingo (Passing Strange, A Boy and His Soul) all appeared in a June 2009 reading of The Scottsboro Boys.

The design team includes Beowulf Boritt (set), Toni-Leslie James (costumes), Kevin Adams (lighting) and Peter Hylenski (sound). David Loud serves as music director. Orchestrations are by Larry Hochman.

The Scottsboro Boys plays Tuesdays at 7 PM, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM.

Tickets are $70 and can be reserved online at the Vineyard Theatre website at www.vineyardtheatre.org or by calling (212) 353-0303.

The Vineyard Theatre is at 108 East 15th Street.