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A cakewalk from Kander & Ebb: 'The Scottsboro Boys'

October 30, 2010 |  7:00 am


It all started at lyricist Fred Ebb’s kitchen table about eight years ago. Ebb and composer John Kander, the legendary songwriting team that crafted celebrated scores for “Chicago,” “Cabaret” and nearly a dozen other Broadway shows, were ready to start a new show, and so were their frequent collaborators, director Susan Stroman and librettist David Thompson.

As the four friends talked first about the Depression, in which two of their earlier musicals were set, then about great American trials, they returned again and again to the infamous Scottsboro Boys case. On March 25, 1931, nine black teenagers bound for Memphis were pulled off a freight train in Scottsboro, Ala., then falsely accused, imprisoned and convicted for raping two white women. Their convictions were later overturned — twice — by the U.S. Supreme Court, and  one of the two women  recanted her testimony. But each youth spent at least six years in jail, and nine lives were ruined.

“When I was little, I remember the Scottsboro case being in the newspaper all the time,” recalls 83-year-old Kander. “But as I grew older, it was there less and less until it wasn’t in the newspaper at all. These were real people, and our show could bring them back to life again.”

Fred Ebb died on Sept. 11, 2004, but the power of the material drew  his three collaborators back to the project  a few years later. Kander says he “channeled” his longtime writing partner to finish lyrics as well as music, and their new musical, “The Scottsboro Boys,” opens on Broadway on Sunday after sold-out runs this year at both the off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre and Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater.

For an in-depth look at the production, click here.

-- Barbara Isenberg

Photo: Joshua Henry and members of the cast of "The Scottsboro Boys," directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Credit : Paul Kolnik