By Kenneth Jones
30 Nov 2010
|Photo by Paul Kolnik|
At close, it will have played 49 performances and 29 previews. "We've never believed more strongly and passionately in a show as we did with The Scottsboro Boys," stated producers Barry and Fran Weissler and Jacki Barlia Florin. "It's a show we felt we had to produce and we're proud and grateful to have brought this last great musical from Kander & Ebb to Broadway. We encourage anyone who loves challenging, provocative and original new musicals to see us in our final two weeks at the Lyceum."
The show — with a libretto by David Thompson, and direction and choreography by Susan Stroman — takes the racially insensitive "minstrel show" of yore and reimagines it to tell the true story of a case of racial injustice. It opened Oct. 31 following previews from Oct. 7. It first dawned at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre in the spring and then played the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, where it was further refined prior to Broadway. An Off-Broadway cast album preserves the score.
Complete with sentimental songs, a tap specialty, a cakewalk, low comedy and three stock characters — the Interlocutor, Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo — The Scottsboro Boys conjures the defunct, highly theatrical minstrel form but puts a fierce spin on it. Usually told by white men in black face, this time an all-black troupe (and one white actor, the Tony Award-winning John Cullum as the Interlocutor) tells the tale of a group of young men who were accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, AL, in 1931. They spent years in jail for crimes they did not commit.
"The minstrel show is a very famous American art form," Stroman said. "But the way we use it is as a device to tell this story, because in [the minstrel show form] they did tell a story… The Interlocutor would come down and say, 'Tell us a story!' But, of course, it wouldn't be a serious story about The Scottsboro Boys. And also, for me — choreographically and in staging — there was always a semi-circle of chairs [in the minstrel form]. And now, the nine Scottsboro Boys take these chairs and they make a train or they make a jail, they make a courtyard, so they are in charge of this show and very invested in telling this story. It was a device — what was once known as a racially charged [form], or still known as a racially charged [form] — to tell a racially charged story. So when we came upon that idea, the show just clicked."
Broadway groundbreakers Kander (composer) and Ebb (lyricist) — of Chicago, Cabaret, Zorba and Kiss of the Spider Woman fame — share music and lyric credit here, with Kander supplying additional lyrics. Ebb died in 2004. When Kander, Thompson and Stroman resumed work on the show, Kander said he would write new lyrics, "channeling" Ebb. He told Playbill.com on Oct. 6 that about two-thirds of the score was done at the time of Ebb's passing, and that he doesn't intend to share what his own new lyric/song contributions are. He's hoping the score is a seamless piece of cloth.
Commercial producers Fran and Barry Weissler plucked up the property in the spring and carried it to Broadway, with a few cast changes since the Vineyard. Script, score and directorial changes have been ongoing since the spring, and the show's refinement continued in Broadway previews.
The production is the winner of the 2010 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, the 2010 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical and a 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics.
Joshua Henry, who created the "Favorite Son" military hero in Broadway's American Idiot, stars as one of the central figures in the case: He plays Haywood Patterson, one of young men (all of them under the age of 22) who made headlines around the country.
Patterson is a focal point in the musical, and gets to sing (with his new brothers) the plaintive jail-cell number "Go Back Home," in which they ruefully speculate that "maybe times will turn."
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.
|photo by Paul Kolnik|
The Broadway cast also features Cullum (celebrating his 50th anniversary on Broadway) as The Interlocutor, Colman Domingo as Mr. Bones, Forrest McClendon as Mr. Tambo, Josh Breckenridge as Olen Montgomery, Derrick Cobey as Andy Wright, Jeremy Gumbs as Eugene Williams, Rodney Hicks as Clarence Norris, Kendrick Jones as Willie Roberson, James T. Lane as Ozie Powell and Ruby Bates, Julius Thomas III as Roy Wright, Sharon Washington as The Lady and Christian Dante White as Charles Weems and Victoria Price.
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 interview with Thompson on the topic of minstrel shows.
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, The Rink, Curtains and Zorba. (Their completed musicals The Skin of Our Teeth and The Visit have been seen regionally, but not yet on Broadway.)
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 Broadway creative team includes lighting designer Ken Billington, set designer Beowulf Boritt, 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 is produced on Broadway by Barry and Fran Weissler, Jacki Barlia Florin, Janet Pailet/Sharon Carr/Patricia R. Klausner, Nederlander Presentations Inc./The Shubert Organization Inc., Beechwood Entertainment, Broadway Across America, Mark Zimmerman, Adam Blanshay/R2D2 Productions, Rick Danzansky/Barry Tatelman, Bruce Robert Harris/Jack W. Batman, Allen Spivak/ Jerry Frankel, Bard Theatricals/Probo Productions/Randy Donaldson, Catherine Schreiber/Michael Palitz/Patti Laskawy, Vineyard Theatre.
The Lyceum Theatre is at 149 W. 45th Street. 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 are Tuesday through Sunday at 8 PM, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM.
For more information, visit www.ScottsboroMusical.com.
Each morning when the box office opens, a limited number of select-seating student-rush tickets are available for purchase for that day's matinee or evening performance, as applicable. Tickets are $26.50 each, subject to availability and are available on a first come, first served basis. There is a limit of two tickets per patron. Cash or credit card will be accepted and a valid student ID is required. These tickets are available at the Lyceum Theatre box office only. For performances Tuesday through Saturday, the box office opens at 10 AM. For Sunday performances, the box office opens at noon. On two-show days, both the matinee and evening performances will be available for purchase when the box office opens that day.
Composer John Kander, director Susan Stroman and their collaborators talk about reinventing the minstrel form: