Kander & Ebb's Scottsboro Boys Begins Minneapolis Run Prior to Broadway

By Kenneth Jones
31 Jul 2010

Joshua Henry
Joshua Henry

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis welcomes the new Broadway-bound musical The Scottsboro Boys starting July 31. The tale of an infamous case of American injustice has songs by Broadway masters John Kander and Fred Ebb, who tell the true story in an archaic but highly theatrical form — the minstrel show.

The Guthrie engagement at McGuire Proscenium Stage through Sept. 25 will feature refinements and changes since the show's spring world-premiere run at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre. Susan Stroman again directs and choreographs. The libretto is by David Thompson (Steel Pier). Music is by Kander, lyrics are by the late Fred Ebb, with some additional lyrics by Kander.

Commercial producers Fran and Barry Weissler plucked up the property in the spring and are carrying it to Broadway, with a few cast changes since the Vineyard. Most notably, Joshua Henry, who created the "Favorite Son" military hero in Broadway's American Idiot, now stars as one of the central figures in the case: He plays Haywood Patterson, one of nine young men wrongly accused of rape in Depression-era Alabama.

Patterson is a focal point in the musical, and (at least Off-Broadway) got to sing the plaintive jail cell number "Go Back Home." (Brandon Victor Dixon originated the role Off-Broadway, and will play Ray Charles in the Broadway musical Unchain My Heart in 2010-11.)



Henry was featured in the original Broadway cast of In the Heights and in the City Center production of The Wiz. He also appeared in Paper Mill Playhouse's Godspell.

Also joining the company at the Guthrie are Jeremy Gumbs is Eugene Williams and David Anthony Brinkley is The Interlocutor. On Broadway, Tony Award winner John Cullum will return to role of The Interlocutor, which he created at the Vineyard. Ken Billington is the new lighting designer.

According to producers, "Based on the notorious 'Scottsboro' case in the 1930s (in which nine African-American men were unjustly accused of a terrible crime) this daring and wildly entertaining musical explores a fascinating chapter in American history with brilliant originality."

The critically acclaimed production follows the lead of the script and borrows elements of the now-dead American theatrical form of a "minstrel show" — to make its social-justice points (and its theatrical ones, too). For much of the history of the form (which dates to the early 19th century), performances were acted by white men in blackface. All but one actor in Scottsboro Boys is black. Read Playbill.com's earlier feature about this postmodern take on minstrel shows.

The Scottsboro Boys will open on Broadway Oct. 31 at the Lyceum Theatre. Previews will begin Oct. 7.

Also at the Guthrie are ten cast members from the Vineyard production, who will recreate their performances on Broadway: Sean Bradford as Ozie Powell and Ruby Bates, Josh Breckenridge as Olen Montgomery, Derrick Cobey as Andy Wright, Colman Domingo as Mr. Bones, Rodney Hicks as Clarence Norris, Kendrick Jones as Willie Roberson, Forrest McClendon as Mr. Tambo, Julius Thomas III as Roy Wright, Sharon Washington as The Lady and Christian Dante White as Charles Weems and Victoria Price.

The Scottsboro Boys is one of the final produced collaborations by Tony Award-winning musical theatre writers Kander (composer) and Ebb (lyricist), whose work includes Chicago, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Zorba. Ebb died in 2004.

A cast album was recorded in recent weeks; a fall release from JAY Records expected.

Five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman staged such hits as The Producers, Contact and The Music Man). Book writer Thompson worked with Kander and Ebb on a revised Flora, the Red Menace and the musical Steel Pier and co-created their revue And the World Goes 'Round (all with Stroman). Thompson also adapted the script for Chicago's record-breaking revival.

The Scottsboro Boys is the winner of the 2010 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical and the 2010 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical and a 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics.

The Broadway creative team includes set designer Beowulf Borritt, costume designer Toni-Leslie James and sound designer Peter Hylenski, orchestrator Larry Hochman, musical arranger Glen Kelly and music director David Loud.

The Scottsboro Boys will be produced on Broadway by Barry and Fran Weissler (who have both told Playbill.com that the Guthrie period is being used to test recent revisions and clarifications to the show), Jacki Barlia Florin and The Vineyard Theatre.

For information about the Guthrie run, visit guthrietheater.org.

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Broadway tickets ($39.50 - $131.50; Premium $251.50) are available by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.com. Performances will be Tuesday through Sunday at 8 PM, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM.

For more information, visit www.ScottsboroMusical.com.