This is the first of three posts providing some background about my current show, "The Scottsboro Boys," which runs June 28-Aug 4 at Playhouse on Park.
"The Scottsboro Boys" is the final collaboration between John Kander & Fred Ebb. John Kander said of the show, "There's something in it to offend absolutely everybody."
Lyricist Fred Ebb was passionate about telling this story. The opening sequence came to him in a dream. As he breathlessly explained it to the writing team in a meeting, Kander sat down at the piano and began to compose the opening march. Ebb was beside himself, screaming that it was the best thing Kander had ever written.
Kander and Ebb perfected the "concept musical." In their most successful musicals, Kander & Ebb use the "show within a show" format to present the important ideas in a way that shows the audience a powerful truth without preaching or telling them what to think.
In "Cabaret," Kander & Ebb switch from realistic scenes outside the Kit Kat Club to metaphorical numbers inside. The decadence of the club and the boisterous numbers serve as statements against the extremism (disguised as righteousness) and persecution (disguised as patriotism) of the Nazis.
In "Chicago," Kander & Ebb used vaudeville to explore celebrity culture. Roxie and Velma gain fortune and fame from their crimes, while an innocent woman hangs. Fakery and distraction are rewarded while the honest guy is forgotten.
In "The Scottsboro Boys," Kander & Ebb tell the story of nine black men who were falsely accused of raping two white woman in 1931. They do this through America's most popular form entertainment in the nineteenth century, a genre that is uniquely American, and one which still impacts the American theater today. It is where we got tap dancing and famous songs like "Dixie" and "Camptown Races." It is also the beginning of a long tradition in American entertainment of stereotyped representations of black people: the minstrel show.
For more information on the show, check out www.playhouseonpark.org