Kander & Ebb's Scottsboro Boys, Aiming for Broadway, Will Get a Cast Album

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23 Apr 2010

<I>The Scottsboro Boys</i> stars Rodney Hicks, John Cullum and Brandon Victor Dixon
The Scottsboro Boys stars Rodney Hicks, John Cullum and Brandon Victor Dixon
Carol Rosegg

The Off-Broadway cast of The Scottsboro Boys is in a Manhattan studio April 23, recording the John Kander-Fred Ebb score of the Broadway-bound musical. John Yap is producing the recording for Jay Records.

Commercial producer Barry Weissler (Chicago) has said that he wants to shepherd the musical to Broadway in the coming season. A summer run of the production, which originated at the Vineyard Theatre, will play the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis prior to an expected (but not yet announced) commercial life. A casting notice related to the Guthrie run indicates that the show a run on Broadway will begin the fall. Susan Stroman directs and choreographs.

A cast album can be an important asset in a show's commercial life.

David Loud is music director, orchestrations are by Larry Hochman, music arrangements are by Glen Kelly, and Paul Masse is conductor and associate music director.

The Scottsboro Boys, which ended an extended run April 18 at the Vineyard Theatre in Manhattam, has lyrics by the late Ebb and music (and additional lyrics) by Kander. The show takes a flashpoint in American Civil Rights history and makes it sing, dance and sting. David Thompson (Steel Pier) wrote the libretto. It opened March 10 after previews from Feb. 12.



Along with Curtains, this is a show that lyricist Ebb did not live to see fully produced; he died in 2004. Kander penned some latter-day words as the show continued to develop without his longtime collaborator.

As with Kander and Ebb's Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Scottsboro Boys has social justice in its heart, salty lyrics on its tongue and rhythmic, banjo-kissed vamps from the band — all in a framework unlike anything seen in the modern musical.

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 to 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."

The musical covers the period 1931-37 and is billed in the program as "a fictional play based on real events."

Tony Award winner Susan Stroman directed and choreographed the Off-Broadway production, which featured John Cullum, Brandon Victor Dixon and Colman Domingo in a cast of 13.

The tale is told 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. Rather than creating a merely populist pastiche, the collaborators bend the minstrel show form to create a musical social critique. Social justice has often been on the minds of Kander, Ebb and their past collaborators.

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.

To read the Playbill.com interview with book writer Thompson, who speaks about minstrel shows, click here

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).

The Vineyard program for The Scottsboro Boys (while it was still in previews) indicated the following songlist:

"Minstrel March"
"Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!"
"Commencing in Chattanooga"
"Alabama Ladies"
"Nothin'"
"Electric Chair"
"Go Back Home"
"Shout!"
"Make Friends With the Truth"
"That's Not the Way We Do Things"
"Never Too Late"
"Financial Advice"
"Southern Days"
"Alabama Ladies" (Reprise)
"It's Gonna Take Time"
"Zat So"
"You Can't Do Me"
"The Scottsboro Boys"