The Scottsboro Boys

Central Iowa is a good place to live if you like theatre. Iowa State’s Stephens Auditorium in Ames and the Civic Center in Des Moines both bring in a wide assortment of touring musicals and plays, not to mention the strong regional theatre offerings in Des Moines and student productions in Ames. In past years I’ve also traveled east to see shows in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.

So there really isn’t a good reason to leave the state to catch a show, unless you want to go all the way to New York. Except, sometimes there is.

Sometimes there’s a great reason to venture to Chicago or Minneapolis – because a lot of Broadway productions have an out-of-town run before they launch their show in New York. The Lion King, for example, played in Minneapolis for eight weeks before it opened on Broadway in 1997. Last fall, The Addams Family premiered in Chicago before it opened in New York. I saw that show in early December (smack dab between giant snow storms) and although I wasn’t crazy about the show, it was pretty cool to see Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth in a brand new production.

Such is the opportunity right now at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. The Scottsboro Boys, a musical by the writing team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb (most famous for Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman), is doing its out-of-town run now through Sept. 25 before it opens on Broadway Oct. 7. The cast is the real Broadway cast (with the exception of one actor), so it’s a wonderful opportunity to catch this show in its fresh, enthusiastic infancy – at a fraction of the cost of a trip to New York.

The Scottsboro Boys is based on the notorious “Scottsboro” case in the 1930s in which nine African American men and boys were unjustly accused of raping two white women in Alabama. The show is structured as a minstrel show – which is something I’ve never seen and I’m guessing most other people haven’t, either. It’s a gutsy show, telling the story of a sickening miscarriage of justice in which the young men are convicted by an all-white jury. The Scottsboro cases actually reached the U.S. Supreme Court three times and dragged on for nearly 10 years.

It’s hard to believe this could happen in America. But it’s a story that reminds us of our not-so-distant shameful past. As a theatrical experience, it’s very powerful.

Tickets are still available. Find out more at http://www.guthrietheater.org/scottsboroboys

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