BLACK HISTORY MONTH-Innovative Musical Contributions: Shows From "The Edge"

BLACK HISTORY MONTH-Innovative Musical Contributions: Shows From "The Edge"

MTI’s Theatre on the Edge Collection series is home to an array of contemporary musicals that are innovative and groundbreaking. To honor Black History Month, the MTI Marquee is featuring shows from our catalog that directly relate to or are in existence because of Black American artist. CAROLINE, OR CHANGE and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, both shows from the Theatre on the Edge Collection, are the subjects of this particular post because of their poignant and impeccably accurate depiction of Black Americans' struggle for equality.

CAROLINE, OR CHANGE is the story of the Caroline Thibodeaux, an African American maid who works for the Gellman family in 1963 Louisiana. Taking place amidst a world on the brink of transformation with the murmurs of a movement for civil rights escalating in volume, explosive circumstances (including the assassination of President Kennedy) propel tension and conflict into the focal point of the characters' everyday lives. CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, being deeply personal yet inherently aware of a larger social lens, is a hallmark work for both its writers – bookwriter/lyricst Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori. The beauty and intricacy of this piece draws audiences to it over and over again; and while many musicals have African American characters, few characters (of any race) are drawn with the depth and complexity of Caroline, Emmy, and the rest of the cast in this show. To get a full synopsis and more information about the show, click here.

Similarly, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is an immaculate depiction of Black American struggle in a segregated America. The conceit of the show is that it is a minstrel show, which may be surprising for some audience members, but is actually very much in line with the (John) Kander (composer) and (Fred) Ebb (lyricist) tradition of taking well-known forms and subverting them in order to say something powerful (i.e. vaudeville in CHICAGO or cabaret performance style in CABARET). By using a highly charged, but also distinctively American form the authors, including bookwriter David Thompson, are able to powerfully wield musical theater to talk about a tragic and unjust event in American history. Based on horrifically unjust events, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is a group of 9 African American boys, ranging in age from 12 to 18, who were falsely accused of raping two white women and put in jail in Alabama. For a complete synopsis and more information about the show, click here.

Both CAROLINE, OR CHANGE and THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS show how musical theater can be an important cultural tool for both connecting to historical events and relating their implications to the present day. All of the shows in MTI’s Theatre on the Edge collection share this kind of resonance in one way or another. Musicals in the Theatre on the Edge collection have garnered a staggering amount of awards and critical acclaim – indicative of these pieces' importance. While it may be speculated that musicals are created with soul purpose to entertain, the pieces in the Theatre on the Edge Collection not only do that, but goes beyond the spectrum of entertainment to demonstrate a boldness and artistic integrity that massively affects those touched by them.

Not only during Black History Month, but in every month throughout the year, it is our hope as artists to grow and change for the better. To share stories of individuals like those responsible for social improvement in this country is our gift. Though it may pale in comparison to what those crusaders for equality gave us, we will continue sharing with all of our being - not with hopes of rewards, but that one day those warriors may hear us saying,

"Thank you."