The story of the Scottsboro Boys is one of American shame and tragedy. It’s the story of nine African American boys that board a train to Memphis and end up falsely accused of rape during an Alabama stop. All nine boys fought the case and the original verdict was turned over by the U.S. Supreme Court, but despite recantation and appeals, all the boys died, either at the hand of the prison or due to their time there.
It wasn’t until 2002 that the story was dug up by Susan Stroman and brought to musical writers David Thompson, John Kinder, and Fred Ebb. They began writing the scenes and the music, but faced a tragedy of their own when Fred Ebb died in 2004. Ebb’s lyrics were finished by John Kinder four years later, after deciding the show must go on. After years of development, the show was finally released off-Broadway in 2010. With the rumors circulating about one questionable aspect of the show, it drew immediate media attention and acquired protesters before it even opened at the Lyceum Theatre. The controversy surrounded actors using “black face”, but had the protesters seen the show, they would have seen that it was done to call out the wrongs within the American justice system, not to in any way promote racism. Regardless of the protests, the show opened to remarkable reviews, calling the show “a masterwork” and “highly entertaining” It quickly made its way to Minneapolis and Broadway that same year, opening at Gutherie Theater in July and Lyceum Theatre in October. Though it did not win, The Scottsboro Boys was nominated for twelve Tony awards.
The show did a number of regional performances in 2012 across the country in places like San Diego, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, resulting in more mainstream fame and a trip across the pond to London. The Scottsboro Boys opened in London Off-West End in October of 2013, and it wasn’t but exactly one year later it was playing in West End, proper. In London, the reviews came out even better than in the states and the musical ended up being nominated for a number of awards and winning Best Musical at the 2014 London Evening Standard Awards.
Back home, even today, the musical continues to entertain and spread the tragic story across the United States. In 2017, it made its Chicago premiere at the Porchlight Music Theatre and in 2018, the musical opened in Arlington, Virginia at the Signature Theater. The musical continues to be a hit musical and a culturally relative show used to educate people and shine a light on the dark past that America has with slaves in the post-Civil War era. It remains one of the most popular shows out there today and has many plans to continue across the country and further into Europe, in hopes of educating and entertaining.