News / USA

    Broadway Musical Resurrects Grim Racial Event

    'The Scottsboro Boys' recounts trial of black teens accused of raping two white women

    'The Scottsboro Boys' is a Broadway muscial which recounts the 1930s case in which nine African-American teenagers were unjustly accused of raping two white women in Alabama.
    'The Scottsboro Boys' is a Broadway muscial which recounts the 1930s case in which nine African-American teenagers were unjustly accused of raping two white women in Alabama.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    A new musical which focuses on a shameful episode in American racial history just opened on Broadway.

    "The Scottsboro Boys" delves into an infamous 1930s legal case in which nine African-American teenagers were unjustly accused of raping two white women in the southern state of Alabama. The trials and appeals dragged on for almost a decade and ended up in the Supreme Court twice. The circus surrounding the case captured national attention.

    The Broadway production features a score by legendary songwriters Kander and Ebb - who also created "Cabaret" and "Chicago." But can a musical based on such a grim and emotional subject be successfully made into popular entertainment?

    'The Scottsboro Boys'

    On a recent Saturday afternoon, students from Harlem's Academy for Social Action decided to find out. Their excursion to see "The Scottsboro Boys" was part of a program called Open Doors, which introduces New York City high school kids to Broadway shows. After devouring the study guide, 17-year-old Samantha Henry couldn't wait for the show to start.

    "Oh, I was excited to see it because of the format of the show," she says. "Like, they put it so it's entertaining, but at the same time you get to get the real racist content of the 1930s."

    Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz meets with his clients in Scottsboro, Alabama (1933).
    Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz meets with his clients in Scottsboro, Alabama (1933).

    According to director Susan Stroman, the creators of the musical took their cue from lyricist Fred Ebb, who died in 2004, before the show was completed.

    "He said, 'You know, if you we don't make this show entertaining, no one's gonna listen to this story. It has to be entertaining.'"

    But it's entertainment that's meant to be subversive. "The Scottsboro Boys" tells its story as a minstrel show - a popular entertainment from the 19th century that featured white performers, and sometimes black ones, in blackface. Composer John Kander notes they usually played buffoonish characters.

    "Doing a minstrel show today is such a racially-charged thing that it already brings its own comment with it," says Kander. "So the very form that we were working in commented on the story that we were telling."

    Mixing roles

    "The Scottsboro Boys" makes use of the kind of broad stylized characters typical in minstrel shows and has many of the actors playing multiple roles - including white stereotypes.

    'The Scottsboro Boys' tells its story as a minstrel show - a popular entertainment from the 19th century that featured white performers, and sometimes black ones, in blackface makeup.
    'The Scottsboro Boys' tells its story as a minstrel show - a popular entertainment from the 19th century that featured white performers, and sometimes black ones, in blackface makeup.

    "Our black company get to play a white sheriff and white guards and white lawyers and they get to play roles that they would never be allowed to play," says Stroman, the show's director. "And that makes it sort of an acting tour-de-force for them."

    As the show progresses, the perspective of the Scottsboro Boys takes over. Towards the end of the musical, the Interlocutor - a master of ceremonies and the only white person onstage - asks the Scottsboro Boys to sing a ballad, called "Southern Days."

    "And they do, indeed, sing it for him, but then they take the lyrics and spin them on their heads," says Stroman. "You know, they change the sweet lyrics of the how sweet it is down south to the horrors that they have been through."

    The boys sing lyrics such as, "How the sights and sounds come back to me… like my daddy hangin' from a tree."

    Students from Harlem's Academy for Social Action discuss 'The Scottsboro Boys' after seeing the show on Broadway.
    Students from Harlem's Academy for Social Action discuss 'The Scottsboro Boys' after seeing the show on Broadway.

    Lasting impression

    The 1930s Alabama of lynchings and cross-burnings made an impression on those in the audience, like the Harlem teenagers. Jamal Baugh found himself talking to some audience members after the show.

    "Me and Shannille was talking to two old ladies who was actually in that time. They were black also. So she was saying that can we relate to it? And I was like, 'No. I'm kind of glad that we live right now,'" recounts Baugh. "And how they were saying that they were sad at seeing how this play was so emotional and how it was racism at that time. So they had it bad while we had it good, for right now."

    The Theater Development Fund, which sponsors the Open Doors program, has bought out the house for two upcoming matinees of "The Scottsboro Boys." They plan to bring 1,800 high school kids to see the show.

    You May Like

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.