The Scottsboro Boys (musical)

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The Scottsboro Boys
Scottsboroboyscover.jpg
Broadway playbill
Music John Kander
Lyrics Fred Ebb
Book David Thompson
Basis The Scottsboro Boys Trial
Productions 2010 Off-Broadway
2010 Minneapolis
2010 Broadway
2013 London
2014 West End
Awards Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical,
Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical,
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics

The Scottsboro Boys is a musical with a book by David Thompson, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Based on the Scottsboro Boys trial, the musical is one of the last collaborations between Kander and Ebb prior to the latter's death. The musical has the framework of a minstrel show, altered to "create a musical social critique" with a company that, except for one, consists "entirely of African-American performers."[1]

The Scottsboro Boys, despite closing on Broadway in December 2010, received twelve Tony Award nominations in May 2011, but failed to win any.[2] The previous record for nominations without a win was eleven, held by Steel Pier and the original production of Chicago, both also by Kander and Ebb. The musical's twelve nominations were second only to The Book of Mormon, which garnered fourteen nominations that year.[2]

Synopsis[edit]

As she is waiting for a bus, a lady lifts a corner of a cake box she's holding. As it brings back memories, the scene around her fades aways, and the minstrels arrive ("Minstrel March"). The Interlocutor, the host of the Minstrel Show, introduces the players in the troupe, then begins the story of the Scottsboro Boys ("Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!").

In 1931, Haywood Patterson, one of the nine boys at a train station, is ready to see the world ("Commencing in Chattanooga"). As the train is stopped, two runaway girls jump out. To get away, they accuse the nearby boys of rape ("Alabama Ladies"), and the boys are sent to jail. However, without a good lawyer ("Nothin'"), they are found guilty and are sentenced to death at Kilby Prison. Eugene, the youngest, has nightmares ("Electric Chair"). Awaiting execution, the boys think about the one thing they want most ("Go Back Home"). Just as the executions are about to begin, the verdict is overturned. In the North, the case has become a cause celebre, and the Supreme Court has ruled the boys didn't have effective counsel. While the boys aren't free, they do get another trial ("Shout!").

A year later, they are still in prison. Haywood learns to write, and shares his short story ("Make Friends With the Truth"). The next trial gets under way in the spring of 1933. Public outrage over the trial has grown, especially in the North. They are given a New York lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, to represent them to court ("That's Not The Way We Do Things"). During the trial, Ruby Bates, one of the girls, surprises the court and admits that the boys are innocent ("Never Too Late"). But, upon cross-examination, the Southern District Attorney claims that Ruby Bates' change of heart was purchased by the defense ("Financial Advice").

While the boys sit in a holding cell, waiting for the verdict, they talk about what they will do when the trial is over, believing that they can't be found guilty of crime that never happened. They talk about heading North, but the Interlocutor reminds them that they belong in the South ("Southern Days"). The boys are found guilty again and are sent back to prison. Haywood tries to escape in order to see his mother before she dies ("Commencing in Chattanooga (Reprise)"), but he's quickly caught.

As time passes, Leibowitz and the North continue to appeal the verdict. In every trial, the boys are found guilty. Even the other girl, Victoria Price, begins to buckle ("Alabama Ladies (Reprise)"). By 1937, four of the youngest boys are released, but the other five remain in prison. Haywood wonders: "Will there ever be justice?" Finally, Haywood is brought up for parole in front of the governor of Alabama, but is demanded to plead guilty ("It's Gonna Take Time").

He tells the truth that he didn't do the crime, but is sent back to prison again ("'Zat So?/You Can't Do Me"). Haywood dies twenty-one years later in prison. As the show ends, the Interlocutor calls for the finale, but the boys are reluctant ("The Scottsboro Boys").

The scene fades back to the bus stop, just as the bus arrives. The lady, who is, in fact, Rosa Parks, boards the bus. The driver tells her to sit in the back to make room for a white man to sit down, but she stays in the front. Parks' actions spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott.[3]

Background[edit]

In 2002, Susan Stroman first met with Thompson, Kander, and Ebb. The team began to "research the famous American trials" and found the Scottsboro Boys trial, which they thought was "a story that needed to be told."[4] After Ebb's death in 2004, the project was put on hold. However, in 2008, Kander reapproached Stroman and Thompson, and the project continued. Kander finished writing the lyrics in Ebb's place.[5][6]

Productions[edit]

Off-Broadway, 2010[edit]

The Off-Broadway production opened at the Vineyard Theatre on March 10, 2010, with previews having started on February 12, 2010. This was a limited engagement, which closed on April 18, 2010. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, the original cast included John Cullum, Brandon Victor Dixon, and Colman Domingo.[7][8][9] The creative team included sets by Beowulf Boritt, costumes by Toni-Leslie James, and lighting by Kevin Adams.

Minneapolis, 2010[edit]

The musical opened at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota, starting July 31, 2010 and officially August 6 through September 25, with Susan Stroman as director and choreographer.[10]

Broadway, 2010[edit]

The musical began previews on Broadway on October 7, 2010, at the Lyceum Theatre, and officially opened on October 31, 2010, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.[11][12] The set design was by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Ken Billington and sound design by Peter Hylenski. Orchestrations are by Larry Hochman, with musical arrangements by Glen Kelly. The production was music directed by David Loud, who also created the vocal arrangements, and conducted by Paul Masse.[13] This production closed on December 12, 2010, after 29 previews and 49 regular performances.[14]

Philadelphia, 2012[edit]

A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, production of The Scottsboro Boys featuring several of the original Broadway cast members played at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in the Suzanne Roberts Theatre beginning on January 20, 2012. Stroman's original direction and choreography was replicated by Jeff Whiting. The limited engagement concluded on February 19, 2012.[15]

San Diego, 2012[edit]

A new production opened at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre on April 22, 2012, running until June 10, 2012.[16][17]

San Francisco, 2012[edit]

The musical ran at the American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco, from June 21, 2012, to July 22, 2012.[18][19]

London, 2013[edit]

The Young Vic, London, recreated the Broadway production from October 18, 2013 with Susan Stroman directing.[20] In January 2014 the production received the Peter Hepple award for best musical, from The Critics' Circle.[21] The production transfers to the West End's Garrick Theatre from October 4, 2014. [22]

Other productions[edit]

Producers confirmed that "discussions with resident not-for-profit theatres in Seattle, Chicago and Boston are ongoing".[18]

Original Broadway cast[edit]

  • Sharon Washington - The Lady (Rosa Parks)
  • Colman Domingo - Mr. Bones, Sheriff Bones, Lawyer Bones, Guard Bones, Attorney General, Clerk
  • Forrest McClendon - Mr. Tambo, Deputy Tambo, Lawyer Tambo, Guard Tambo, Samuel Leibowitz
  • John Cullum - Interlocutor[23]
  • James T. Lane - Ozie Powell/Ruby Bates
  • Josh Breckenridge - Olen Montgomery
  • Kendrick Jones - Willie Roberson
  • Julius Thomas III - Roy Wright
  • Christian Dante White - Charles Weems/Victoria Price
  • Rodney Hicks - Clarence Norris
  • Jeremy Gumbs - Eugene Williams
  • Derrick Cobey - Andy Wright
  • Joshua Henry - Haywood Patterson

Musical numbers[edit]

  • Minstrel March – Orchestra
  • Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey! – Company
  • Commencing in Chattanooga – Haywood and Scottsboro Boys
  • Alabama Ladies – Victoria Price and Ruby Bates
  • Nothin' – Haywood
  • Electric Chair – Guards, Eugene, Electrofied Charlie, and Electrofied Issac
  • Go Back Home – Haywood, Eugene, and Scottsboro Boys
  • Shout! – Scottsboro Boys
  • Make Friends with the Truth – Haywood, Billy, and Scottsboro Boys
  • That's Not the Way We Do Things – Samuel Leibowitz
  • Never Too Late – Ruby Bates and Scottsboro Boys
  • Financial Advice – Attorney General
  • Southern Days – Scottsboro Boys
  • Alabama Ladies (Reprise) – Victoria Price
  • It's Gonna Take Time – Interlocutor
  • Zat So – Governor of Alabama, Samuel Leibowitz, and Haywood
  • You Can't Do Me – Haywood
  • The Scottsboro Boys – Scottsboro Boys

The show is performed without an intermission.[24]

Recordings[edit]

An original cast recording was released by Jay Records on April 23, 2010, featuring the 2010 off-Broadway cast.[1]

Reception[edit]

The original off-Broadway production received mostly positive reviews,.[25] The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentellii referred to it as "a masterwork, both daring and highly entertaining... Director/choreographer Susan Stroman has given it the best production possible at the intimate Vineyard Theatre. The book, score, and staging are so organically linked, you can't imagine one without the others."[26] Steven Suskin of Variety praised the cast.[27]

Reviews for the Broadway production were mixed (the median grade of 28 major reviews was a "B+").[28] While the show received mostly positive reviews,[29][30] The Wall Street Journal called the show "a musical that slathers this terrible tale in a thick coat of musical-comedy frosting that has been spiked with cheap, elephantine irony. I can't imagine a nastier-tasting recipe."[31]

The CurtainUp's reviewer wrote, "While The Scottsboro Boys has made the leap from a small downtown theater to Broadway without a stumble, the tricky question as to whether it will clear the financial hurdle of having to sell more and higher priced tickets, has yet to be answered. For all the singing and dancing, this is not a cheerful story, nor does it have sexy ladies or a romantic element. But neither is it the overly familiar standard fare geared to the tourist trade."[32]

Ben Brantley, reviewing for The New York Times wrote, "With Scottsboro it is as if the events on which it is based are still too raw and upsetting to be treated with too much panache. Though it features some high-kicking dancing from its personable and industrious ensemble, this production gives the impression of always treading carefully, with furrowed brow, stooped shoulders and an accusatory glare."[33]

John McWhorter of The New Republic panned the production, writing that "ideally, [this would be] a piece that grappled with the real story of the Scottsboro boys, a rich one driven by the conflicting impulses of desperate people with conflicting agendas. But the musical paints it in such broad strokes that it’s hard to engage with it on any substantial level."[34] McWhorter concluded that "[i]f this thing were about Haymarket or Tiananmen Square we’d never have heard of it. The only reason The Scottsboro Boys has made it to the Great White Way is the Great White Guilt."[34]

The score was generally well received by critics, with The Associated Press review saying, "Kander’s melodies are effortless, pouring out in a variety of styles from cakewalk to folk ballad to comic ditty. Ebb died in 2004, but here his clear, precise and often quite funny lyrics have been finished by Kander, and the transitions are seamless."[35] McWhorter, however, disagreed, writing that "the Scottsboro score isn’t even much. One of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s least celebrated scores, Steel Pier, is Porgy and Bess compared to this one. Time passes for show music writers: the Scottsboro score is perhaps analogous to Cole Porter’s Aladdin or Jule Styne’s The Red Shoes. I would barely suspect Kander and Ebb had written this score if not told."[34]

Controversy[edit]

On November 6, 2010, about thirty people gathered outside the Lyceum Theatre to protest The Scottsboro Boys, arguing that "the use of minstrelsy and blackface were racist."[36] Stroman said she was disappointed that the protesters, who "probably had not seen the musical," had "misunderstood that the creators were not celebrating the minstrel tradition but rather using it to reveal the evils of the system." Weissler said the minstrel show is "not meant to demean or degrade anybody," but rather that it "houses the story we’re trying to tell."[36]

Whoopi Goldberg addressed these protests on The View, saying that "there's been a lot of protests all over New York against this show - a show that people have not seen. The people who are protesting this show, 90% of the people have not seen it . . . People are protesting saying that it shouldn't be a minstrel show, this is too serious. What people don't understand is that you have to bring information to people in a most invigorating way."[37]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Off-Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result Ref
2010 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Musical Nominated [38]
Outstanding Book of a Musical David Thompson Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Brandon Victor Dixon Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Susan Stroman Nominated
Outstanding Choreography Nominated
Outstanding Music John Kander Nominated
Outstanding Lyrics Fred Ebb Won
Outstanding Orchestrations Larry Hochman Nominated
Outstanding Sound Design Peter Hylenski Nominated

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result Ref
2011 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated [39]
Best Book of a Musical David Thompson Nominated
Best Original Score John Kander and Fred Ebb Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Joshua Henry Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Forrest McClendon Nominated
Colman Domingo Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Susan Stroman Nominated
Best Choreography Nominated
Best Orchestrations Larry Hochman Nominated
Best Scenic Design Beowulf Boritt Nominated
Best Lighting Design Ken Billington Nominated
Best Sound Design Peter Hylenski Nominated

London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result Ref
2014 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Nominated [40]
Best Actor in a Musical Kyle Scatliffe Nominated
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical Colman Domingo Nominated
Best Director Susan Stroman Nominated
Best Theatre Choreographer Susan Stroman Nominated
Outstanding achievement in music John Kander & Fred Ebb Nominated

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jones, Kenneth."Kander & Ebb's 'Scottsboro Boys' Will Get a Cast Album" playbill.com, April 23, 2010
  2. ^ a b D'Arminio, Aubry (2011-05-06). "The Tony nominees react: How they partied with ribs, Louis CK, and an F-word cake". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  3. ^ April 2010. “Song Lyrics”. In The Scottsboro Boys CD booklet. New York City: Jay Records.
  4. ^ Susan Stroman interview from Playbill
  5. ^ "What’s Up, John Kander? The Legendary Composer Talks Scottsboro Boys, Cabaret and Liza". Broadway.com, Oct 8 2010
  6. ^ "Vineyard Presents Invite Only Reading of Kander And Ebb's SCOTTSBORO BOYS 6/26, Stroman To Helm". BroadwayWorld. Jun 24 09
  7. ^ Fick, David."Previews Start for The Scottsboro Boys" Musical Cyberspace, February 12, 2010
  8. ^ Hernandez, Ernio."Stroman Brings New Musical The Scottsboro Boys to Off-Broadway", playbill.com, February 12, 2010
  9. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "'Scottsboro Boys', Kander & Ebb Musical About an American Shame, Opens Off-Broadway". Playbill, March 10, 2010
  10. ^ Hetrick, Adam and Jones, Kenneth."Kander and Ebb's 'The Scottsboro Boys' to Play the Guthrie" playbill.com, April 22, 2010
  11. ^ "A New Razzle Dazzle: Kander & Ebb's Scottsboro Boys Jumps to Broadway" playbill.com
  12. ^ "Scottsboro Boys Finds Broadway Home at the Lyceum Theatre" playbill.com, May 18, 2010
  13. ^ "'The Scottsboro Boys' to Close December 12" broadwayworld.com, November 30, 2010
  14. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Roars of Approval, and Also Remembrance, at Final Bow of The 'Scottsboro Boys'" playbill.com, December 12, 2010
  15. ^ Jones, Kenneth."'Scottsboro Boys' Will Sing in Philadelphia Theatre Co. Season; Trio of Works Announced" playbill.com, June 14, 2011
  16. ^ "'THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS" to Have West Coast Premiere at Old Globe; April 22-June 3, 2012" broadwayworld.com, May 4, 2011
  17. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey! Fat With Tony Nominations, 'Scottsboro Boys' Will Get West Coast Premiere in 2012 playbill.com, May 3, 2011
  18. ^ a b Jones, Kenneth."California Bookings of Scottsboro Boys Confirmed; Seattle, Boston, Chicago Being Eyed" playbill.com, May 5, 2011
  19. ^ [1][dead link]
  20. ^ "The Scottsboro Boys". Young Vic. 2013-12-21. Retrieved 2014-01-28. 
  21. ^ Matt Trueman. "Rory Kinnear claims double victory in 2014 Critics' Circle theatre awards | Stage". theguardian.com. Retrieved 2014-01-28. 
  22. ^ "Scottsboro Boys gets West End transfer". Official London Theatre. 2014-04-29. Retrieved 2014-04-30. 
  23. ^ Internet Broadway Database listing ibdb.com, retrieved November 7, 2010
  24. ^ Sommer, Elyse."Review:'The Scottsboro Boys'" curtainup.com, March 6, 2010
  25. ^ The Scottsboro Boys (Off-Broadway) | StageGrade
  26. ^ Vincentelli, Elisabeth (March 11, 2010). "Ugly prejudice, dazzling drama". New York Post. 
  27. ^ Suskin, Steven (November 1, 2010). "The Scottsboro Boys". Variety. 
  28. ^ The Scottsboro Boys | StageGrade
  29. ^ 'The Scottsboro Boys' will be brilliant - am New York
  30. ^ Gerard, Jeremy (October 31, 2010). "‘Chicago' Team Zaps ‘Scottsboro" Tale With Song, Dance: Review". Bloomberg. 
  31. ^ Teachout, Terry (November 1, 2010). "A Perilous Page of History to Turn". The Wall Street Journal. 
  32. ^ Sommer, Eylse."'The Scottsboro Boys', a Curtainup musical review" curtainup.com, 2010
  33. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theater Review:'The Scottsboro Boys' - Kander and Ebb Revisit an Infamous Case"The New York Times, March 11, 2010
  34. ^ a b c McWhorter, John (2010-11-22) The Great White Guilt on the Great White Way, The New Republic
  35. ^ Kuchwara, Michael. "‘The Scottsboro boys’ examines racial injustice". Associated Press. March 10, 2010
  36. ^ a b Cohen, Patricia."'Scottsboro Boys' Is Focus of Protest". The New york Times. November 7, 2010
  37. ^ "Whoopi Talks SCOTTSBORO Protests" broadwayworld.com, November 15, 2010
  38. ^ Gans, Andrew."Red, Memphis, Bridge, Fences and La Cage Win Drama Desk Awards" playbill.com, May 23, 2010
  39. ^ Jones, Kenneth and Gans, Andrew."2011 Tony Nominations Announced; Book of Mormon Earns 14 Nominations" playbill.com, May 3, 2011
  40. ^ "Olivier awards 2014: musicals lead nominations". theguardian.com. The Guardian. 10 March 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 

External links[edit]