Composer, Librettist and Actor Discuss ‘The Scottsboro Boys’

Chestertown—Broadway comes to Washington College on Tuesday, February 22, when the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Department of Drama join forces to present “History on Broadway: The Scottsboro Boys.” In this special program, legendary Broadway composer John Kander, librettist David Thompson and actor Forrest McClendon will discuss the creation of “The Scottsboro Boys,” a new musical based on one of American history’s most infamous racial dramas.

The program will begin at 5:30 p.m., onstage at Decker Theatre in the Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts, on the Washington College campus. Associate Professor of Drama Michele Volanksy will moderate.

“The Scottsboro Boys,” which ran on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre this fall, is the final collaboration by musical theatre giants John Kander and Fred Ebb, (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”) with a book by David Thompson, who adapted the script for “Chicago’s” current revival. This daring musical explores a fascinating and dark chapter in American history with arresting originality.

Deliberately adopting the structure of the early 20th century minstrel shows, a deeply racist form of theatre, the musical tells the story of the notorious 1930’s “Scottsboro” case, in which nine African-American teenagers, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were pulled from a box car in Alabama and unjustly accused, tried and convicted of a terrible crime. The case electrified the nation, and the young men languished in jail for years, while the case was tried, and retried, ultimately reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

On stage, the cast of the “The Scottsboro Boys,” which included Forrest McClendon as Mr. Tambo, subverts the form of the minstrel show to highlight the injustice of the accusations and the hypocrisies of the American criminal justice system. At times shocking and controversial, “The Scottsboro Boys” is raucously funny and deeply moving in its portrayal of race and justice in 1930’s America.

Prior to the public conversation, Forrest McClendon will conduct a special master class for drama students. This master class, exclusively for current Drama students, has been made possible by the Maxcy Family Visiting Artist Endowment.

John Kander is one of the most esteemed and prolific composers in the American theatre. In 1962, he teamed with the late Fred Ebb to forge one of the longest-running and most successful creative partnerships in Broadway history. Together they wrote music and lyrics for some of the late 20th century’s most popular and provocative musicals, including “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Together, Kander and Ebb have garnered three Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards and two Grammy Awards for their songs, as well as countless other honors including an Academy Award nomination for “New York, New York,” which has become the official song of New York City. In 1998, Kander and Ebb were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.

David Thompson, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, has collaborated with Kander and Ebb on scripts for the revivals of “Flora,” the “Red Menace” and “Chicago.” He has also written the librettos for “And the World Goes ‘Round,” “Steel Pier,” “The Scottsboro Boys,” “Thou Shalt Not” (with music by Harry Connick, Jr.,) and “The Look of Love,” a revue of the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. He is currently working on adaptations of two films, “The Blue Angel” and “Little Miss Marker.” He is the recipient of the Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and was nominated for a Tony award for “Steel Pier.”

Forrest McClendon made his Broadway debut last fall in “The Scottsboro Boys,” playing ‘Mr. Tambo’ and several other roles. Prior work includes Off-Broadway’s “James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire” and “Swoony Planet.” He has extensive credits in regional theatres from Texas to Connecticut, and has received the Barrymore Award for his work in “Avenue X” at the 11th Hour Theatre Company in Philadelphia, a Central Texas Critics Table Award for The America Play at the Zachary Scott Theatre, and an Audelco Award nomination for “James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire. He studied music at the University of Connecticut, and has taught musical theatre at Temple University and Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

February 18, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 15

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