The Scottsboro Boys
This powerful musical is based on the true story of nine young men in a landmark case that helped give rise to the civil rights movement and changed history.
Show Essentials
13
Roles
R
Rated
2
Acts

Full Synopsis

The show starts with an African-American woman sitting on a bench, waiting for a late bus in 1955. While she sits, a memory stirs. The Interlocutor introduces the two archetypal minstrel show characters, Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones, who will play a variety of characters. Using humor typical of minstrel shows, the three set the stage for an evening of song and dance ("Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey"). The story is that of the Scottsboro Boys, who are sitting in a minstrel circle as the Interlocuter introduces them. One boy, Haywood, asks if they can tell the truth this time, and the Interlocutor assures him they can.

The scene transitions to a boxcar that is heading for Memphis. The Scottsboro Boys — Clarence, Andy, Roy, Haywood, Olen, Ozie, Charles, Eugene and Willie — are all aboard, looking for work, opportunity and freedom ("Commencing In Chattanooga"). Suddenly, the train slows. A white sheriff, played by Mr. Bones, confronts the boys; word was sent that there was fighting on the train between a group of white boys and "colored" boys. Deputy Tambo arrives with Victoria and Ruby, two white women played by Charlie and Ozie in drag. It seems that the girls were caught hitching a ride without paying. In order to get out of trouble, Ruby and Victoria claim a group of young black men raped them ("Alabama Ladies"). The Interlocutor, as the Boss Man, confronts Haywood and the boys about the girls' story. Haywood insists that it is not the truth. Sheriff Bones is enraged that anyone would dare challenge the honor of Alabama womanhood. A lynching seems imminent, but The Interlocutor stops them, saying that the Boys should have a proper trial. Sheriff Bones and Deputy Tambo lead the boys to the County Jail.

Once the boys are in prison, Sheriff Bones roughs up Haywood. He gives him a pad and pencil and tells him to write the boys' names. Olen, afraid for his life, starts saying that he'll confess and tell them who did it. Clarence tells Haywood to write down their names. It becomes apparent that most of the boys can't write. Roy picks up the pad, and the other boys introduce themselves to each other. Willie reveals that he stole Sheriff Bones' badge. The boys begin to realize the harsh reality of their situation: they are likely to be condemned, even with a trial. They start to fight each other, and the Interlocutor enters to settle them down. He tells them that a crowd has assembled outside... and that they are in a lynching mood. The Interlocutor then ushers the boys into their trial.

The boys return to the minstrel circle. This time it is in the courtroom. The Interlocutor presides as the judge, with Mr. Tambo as the boys' white lawyer... who is clearly drunk. Mr. Bones plays the old, white prosecutor. Haywood takes the stand and states their innocence, but the trial is clearly fixed ("Nothin'"). The Interlocutor condemns them to die in the electric chair. The boys are taken to prison, de-loused, stripped of their clothes and given prison uniforms.

The guards taunt Eugene, the youngest boy, who doesn't even know what rape is, about the smell coming from the room with the electric chair. Roy and Willie bring the Interlocutor's chair front and center and play revived victims of the chair who dance with Eugene ("Electric Chair"). Eugene wakes from the nightmare, surrounded by the others in the prison cell. The boys exhibit various levels of fear and defiance about their situation. Roy shares a bit of a letter he wrote to his and Andy's mother. It reminds Haywood of home ("Go Back Home").

A Preacher comes to deliver Haywood his last rites. The guard is about to usher him to the chair, when the Interlocutor stops the action. The Supreme Court has decreed that the boys did not have a proper lawyer; they will have to have another trial. Haywood and the Boys are relieved and joyous for this second chance ("Second Chance"). They engage in a "challenge dance," where Haywood wins, and Clarence gives him the Sheriff's star as a prize. The guards are not amused and take Haywood to solitary confinement. The other boys continue to celebrate.


While Haywood is in solitary confinement, Roy "teaches him his letters" by showing him how to draw them in dirt sprinkled on the floor. Roy gives Haywood the pencil and pad, and Haywood is released from solitary. The Interlocutor asks him what he has been writing, and Haywood relates the tale of his cousin, Billy, who learned an important lesson ("Make Friends with the Truth"). The boys then enact Billy's story in a shadow play a la silhouette artist, Kara Walker. At the end of the song, Billy winds up in heaven... but has to enter through the back door.

We hear the sound of a rowdy crowd. Eugene enters as a little white boy, selling souvenirs: primitive jumping jacks hanging from a branch. Roy talks to him from the jail cell window and learns that the boy's father wants there to be a lynching. His mother calls out his name — George Wallace — and he runs off. The Interlocutor then introduces the boys to Samuel Leibowitz. Leibowitz is a Jewish lawyer from the North. He has come to represent the boys and teach the South the error of its ways... something with which he's sure his African-American maid, chauffer and laundress would all agree ("That's Not the Way We Do Things").

The boys go back to trial. Victoria and Ruby enter once more and take the stand. While on the stand, Ruby reads a statement saying that she lied about the rape and assault ("Never Too Late"). The Attorney General cross-examines Ruby, but, in the course of it, he discredits her by insinuating that she changed her story because Leibowitz bought her off with money ("Financial Advice"). Meanwhile, back in the holding room, Haywood shares the letter that he wrote to his mother. The boys then share their wishes and plans for what they want to do once their Not Guilty verdict comes in. Most of the boys agree that they want to go up North, but the Interlocutor confronts them, saying they are from the South. He gets the boys to sing about the glory of the Old South ("Southern Days"). The boys deliver the reverie — in classic tableau — deadpan. The Interlocutor chides them for not smiling, and the boys then let loose with how they really feel about the South. They are returned to the jury for their verdict, and pronounced guilty. There is a musical fanfare as the Interlocutor calls for the Cake Walk. As they walk away, Haywood overtakes the guard and makes an escape. The boys work in the prison yard as Haywood runs ("Chain Gang"). The Guard tricks Olen into revealing where Haywood went. Eventually, the guards capture Haywood and learn that he was trying to see his mother before she died.

The years fly by. The boys are on the bus, going back and forth to the courthouse and, during that time, they are given four more trials... all ending with guilty verdicts. While on the bus, Ozie loses control and tries to strangle Guard Tambo. Guard Bones shoots him in the back of the head. He is not dead but, when the boys return the chairs to the minstrel circle, Ozie sits addled and confused. Victoria reenters and explains why the boys' sentences haven't been carried out: every time the jury declares a Guilty verdict, the Jews and Communists from the North cry out for another trial, which means she gets dragged back into court with them while Ruby gets to travel the country on the Jews' and Communists' dime ("Alabama Ladies – Reprise"). Leibowitz manages to get the four youngest boys out of prison: Willie, Olen, Roy and Eugene. The Interlocutor enters, insisting that it's a happy ending and time to do the Cake Walk. Haywood, however, confronts Leibowitz and learns the truth. If Leibowitz agreed to end his appeals, they would free the four younger boys.

Leibowitz has managed to get Haywood an audience with the Governor. If Haywood confesses to the crime, he'll go free. The Governor then asks Haywood to confess, but Haywood refuses to lie ("Zat So?"). Haywood then professes his innocence and demands his freedom, as he will not take the abuse any longer ("You Can't Do Me"). The Lady, from the opening moment, joins Haywood in the dance. For a moment, Haywood's hands are freed but he is eventually given another twenty-year sentence in jail.

The boys enter in Grand Minstrel top hat and tails ("The Scottsboro Boys"). Each one steps forward and gives the truth of what happened to him after he got out of jail. Haywood, after 21 years in jail, passed away. The boys restore the minstrel circle of chairs, and the Interlocutor calls for his Cake Walk. This time, the boys do not join him and, instead, take off their top hats and tails, wiping their faces clean. The scene shifts  back to the Lady from the prelude. The Interlocutor enters, wearing a bus driver's cap and coat. He says to her that she'll have to move to the back of the bus. She politely refuses.

Casting

Casting

Cast Size: Medium (11 to 20 performers)
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast
Dance Requirements: Standard

Character Breakdown

Interlocutor

A southern gentleman, kindly, who oversees the Minstrel Show. Loves to recall the good old days that never were. The Interlocutor served as the Master of Ceremonies for the traditional minstrel show. Typically played by a white man, the interlocutor conducted the proceedings, often portraying the fictionalized persona of a genteel southern plantation owner.

Gender: male
Age: 30 to 60
Vocal range top: C4
Vocal range bottom: C3
Mr. Bones

The other end man. Same requirements as Mr. Tambo. In addition to playing Mr. Bones, he plays a southern sheriff, prison guard, southern trial lawyer, District Attorney. The traditional minstrel show incorporates the antics of the two end men known as Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones. The two are called upon by the Interlocutor to sing songs, tell jokes as well as play a variety of different characters in skits and stories. 

Gender: male
Age: 20 to 35
Vocal range top: E4
Vocal range bottom: Ab2
Mr. Tambo

The end man. Funny, inventive comedian and song-and-dance man. In addition to playing Mr. Tambo, he plays wide variety of characters including a prison guard, southern lawyer, and Samuel Leibowitz. The traditional minstrel show incorporates the antics of the two end men known as Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones. The two are called upon by the Interlocutor to sing songs, tell jokes as well as play a variety of different characters in skits and stories.

Gender: male
Age: 20 to 30
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: A2
The Lady

A southern seamstress in her early 40’s. Working class. She observes the action. She is smart, clear-headed, compassionate and brings a sense of humanity to the story.

Gender: female
Age: 35 to 50
Andy Wright

Roy’s brother. Always wants to do the right thing. Mediates. Is the first one to follow the rules. Tries to keep Roy from getting into trouble. Thinks that if he is good, he will be able to go home.

Andy Wright left his native Chattanooga on a Southern Railroad freight train headed for Alabama, accompanied by his younger brother Roy. Andy was 19 at the time, and had had enough schooling that he could read and write a bit.

Gender: male
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: F2
Eugene Williams

13 years old. The youngest of them all. Naïve. Constantly has bad dreams. Tries to act tough, but is still a kid. Doesn’t understand what is happening. Must tap dance Also plays: Young George, The little white boy selling souvenirs.

Williams was convicted in a speedy trial at Scottsboro with the other boys, but the Supreme Court of Alabama struck down his conviction based on his young age.

Gender: male
Age: 15 to 20
Vocal range top: A4
Vocal range bottom: A2
Haywood Patterson

Hotheaded. Smart. Willing to go up against the authorities, no matter what the cost. Willing to speak his mind and face the consequences. 

Haywood Patterson started riding the rails when he was fourteen. Patterson entered jail illiterate. “I held a pencil in my hand but I couldn’t tap the power that was in it.” But Patterson was a quick learner. “By the end of 1931, I got much confidence in my way with words so I prepared a Christmas gift for my mother, a letter by my own hand.”

Gender: male
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: C#5
Vocal range bottom: B2
Clarence Norris

The bully. Ornery. Starts fights. Belligerent. Determined to stand up for himself. Ultimately, when he gets the chance, he doesn’t. Also plays: The Preacher, a fire and brimstone prison minister who is just a little too anxious to please the white jailers.

The second of eleven children, Clarence Norris was put to work in the cotton fields at the age of seven. After his father died, Norris took a job at the local Goodyear plant, working up to sixteen hours a day. But the job ended. And Norris decided to hit the railroad tracks and look for work.

Gender: male
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: F4
Vocal range bottom: G2
Willie Roberson

The silent one—who is resourceful. Everyone thinks he is stupid—but he isn’t. Able to steal things from the guards. Must tap dance.

Willie Robertson was raised by his grandmother. When she died in 1930, Roberson left his job as a hotel busboy in Georgia to go to Chattanooga in search of work. Finding none available, he boarded a freight for Memphis in search of free medical care to treat an advanced case of syphilis.

Gender: male
Age: 16 to 21
Vocal range top: A4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Ozie Powell

The smart one who understands exactly what is going to happen to all of them. Quiet, but very aware. Also plays: Ruby Bates, a white girl who is a little dim who ultimately recants the rape charge.

Ozie Powell, according to his own testimony during the first trial, only had three months of formal education. When he was fourteen, Powell left home. He worked in lumber camps and sawmills for weeks or months at a time before moving on.

Gender: male
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: C5
Vocal range bottom: B2
Roy Wright

Likable. Curious. Always going a little further than he should. Likes to show off. He knows how to read. Must tap dance. Roy Wright left home for the first time at the age of 13 to look for work with his older brother, Andy. Roy was one of the few boys who knew how to write.

Gender: male
Age: 20 to 25
Vocal range top: Bb4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Charles Weems

Likes to exaggerate. Always acting bigger than he really is. Also plays: Victoria Price, a white girl who sticks to her story. Mean, tough, tries to play the southern flower but can’t.

Charles Weems was only four when his mother died. Six of his seven siblings died soon afterwards. When his father fell ill, Weems was sent to live with his aunt Gussie McElroy. He was on his way home to Tennessee when he was pulled from the Southern Railroad and charged with rape.

Gender: male
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: C5
Vocal range bottom: B2
Olen Montgomery

Willing to say anything, do anything, just to get out.

Olen Montgomery was born in Monroe, Georgia. Extremely myopic and with a cataract in one eye, Montgomery could not see well at all. The pair of glasses he had was broken on the day of the arrest and he went for two years without a new pair.

Gender: male
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: A4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Full Song List
The Scottsboro Boys: Fiddle Intro
The Scottsboro Boys: Commencing In Chattanooga
The Scottsboro Boys: Alabama Ladies
The Scottsboro Boys: Nothin'
The Scottsboro Boys: Electric Chair
The Scottsboro Boys: Go Back Home
The Scottsboro Boys: Shout!
The Scottsboro Boys: Make Friends With The Truth
The Scottsboro Boys: That's Not The Way We Do Things Around Here
The Scottsboro Boys: Never Too Late
The Scottsboro Boys: Financial Advice
The Scottsboro Boys: Southern Days
The Scottsboro Boys: Alabama Ladies (Reprise)
The Scottsboro Boys: It's Gonna Take Time
The Scottsboro Boys: Zat So?
The Scottsboro Boys: You Can't Do Me
The Scottsboro Boys: The Scottsboro Boys

Show History

Inspiration


The Scottsboro Boys is based on the notorious "Scottsboro Boys" trial of the 1930s, where nine innocent African-American men were unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

Susan Stroman first met with David Thompson, John Kander and Fred Ebb in 2002 to begin research on famous American trials. The team arrived on the "Scottsboro Boys" case as "a story that needed to be told." After Ebb's untimely death in 2004, the project was put on hold. However, Kander returned to the project in 2008 with Stroman and Thompson. Kander finished essentially one-third of the score, writing the lyrics in Ebb's place.

The original concept, beyond its minstrel show format, emphasized simplicity. The modest eight-member orchestra was paired with a very stark set. Actors moved thirteen chairs and planks to create the train, jail cell, prison yard, bus and courtroom. Stroman stated "Since we're already bending the rules on a minstrel show, why not have the boys so invested in telling the story that they make the set themselves?" 



Productions


The Scottsboro Boys, with songs by the legendary writing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, opened Off-Broadway to a sold-out run at the Vineyard Theatre on March 10, 2010, under the helm of Susan Stroman as director and choreographer. The production then opened at the Guthrie Theater on August 6, 2010, to another sold-out run before arriving at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre on October 31, 2010.

In October 2013, Susan Stroman recreated the Broadway production in London at the Young Vic. Subsequent productions have gone up in Philadelphia, at the Old Globe in San Diego and at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

Cultural Influence

  • In addition to the research shared by the creative team, many actors also researched historical archives (such as New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) themselves. Colman Domingo (2011 Tony Award Nominee) added, "We'd sit there for hours, researching the minstrel form or learning about the boys' individual cases.... We know the responsibility of this piece and the integrity that must be attached to it, so we want to make sure we have as much knowledge as possible."
  • Original Broadway Cast member, Jeremy Gumbs, said, "I do believe that it should be in history books, so people my age can know a little bit, at least, about the story that really happened." David Thompson added, "It's an important story to tell – because it's a chapter of American history that's often forgotten."
  • The Scottsboro Boys marks the last collaboration between the legendary Broadway songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote nearly 20 shows together; Ebb died in 2004, while they were still working on the piece.

Trivia

  • The Scottsboro Boys garnered twelve Tony nominations in 2011, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction and Best Choreography. It was also nominated for six Olivier Awards in 2014.
  • The original Broadway production featured John Cullum and Coleman Domingo.

Critical Reaction

"The Best New Musical of the Year – A Cause for Rejoicing!"
– Entertainment Weekly



"A Masterwork! A Triumph! Four Stars!"
– New York Post



"Powerful and Provocative. An Absolute Marvel!"
– Associated Press



"Brilliant."
– New York Magazine



"Dynamic."
– New York Times



"Imaginative."
– Newsday



"Kander's melodies are effortless, pouring out in a variety of styles from cakewalk to folk ballad to comic ditty."
– Associated Press



"A Winner! Bold, provocative and exhilaratingly thoughtful entertainment! One of the most satisfyingly original shows to open in a very long time!"
– Roma Torre, NY1



"We're in the hands of superior musical theater craftsmen."
– David Rooney, Variety



Outstanding Lyrics

2010 - Drama Desk Award -, Nominee (Outstanding Lyrics)

Outstanding Musical

2010 - Lucille Lortel Award -, Nominee (Outstanding Musical)

Outstanding Choreographer

2010 - Lucille Lortel Award -, Nominee (Outstanding Choreographer)

Outstanding New Off Broadway Musical

2010 - Outer Critics Circle Award -, Nominee (Outstanding New Off Broadway Musical)

Billing

Requirements

You must give the authors/creators billing credits, as specified in the Production Contract, in a conspicuous manner on the first page of credits in all programs and on houseboards, displays and in all other advertising announcements of any kind.
Percentages listed indicate required type size in relation to title size.
THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS 

(100%)

 
Music and Lyrics by
JOHN KANDER and FRED EBB

(50%)

 
Book by
DAVID THOMPSON

(50%)

 
Original Direction and Choreography by
Susan Stroman

(50%)

 
Note:  If space limitations make it impracticable to use the above stacked billing for the Authors, the following form is acceptable, with the credit for Stroman appearing on a line below the line for the Bookwriter, Composer and Lyricist:
 
Music and Lyrics by
JOHN KANDER & FRED EBB

(50%)

Book by
DAVID THOMPSON

(50%)

Original Direction and Choreography by
Susan Stroman

(50%)

The names of each of the parties constituting Author and Susan Stroman shall, in each instance, be in the same size, typeface and prominence.
In addition to the foregoing credits, if you elect to recreate Susan Stroman’s original direction and choreography, you shall accord the following billing credit to the person(s) engaged to recreate it, on a line below to the credit to Susan Stroman and in a size of type no larger than 75% of the size of her credit as follows:
“Original Direction and Choreography recreated by [name(s)]”
 
No billing shall appear in type larger or more prominent than the billing to the Authors, except for the title of the Play; provided, however, that Authors’ and Stroman’s billing need not be accorded on marquees and need not be accorded in connection with any press release relating solely to the star(s) of the Play, or in ABC or teaser ads, or in radio or television ads, or in print ads of less than one-quarter page in which only the stars above the title, the title of the Play and the name of the theatre appear.  Billing for the Authors and Susan Stroman will in any event be no less favorable than that accorded to any author by the same theatre (i.e., size, marquee billing, etc.) in the same season as it presents the Play.
Licensee also agrees to provide the following billing to the following music personnel on the title page of the program only, in the same size and type of font as the designers of the Play:
Orchestrations
Larry Hochman
Musical Arrangements
Glen Kelly
Vocal Arrangements
David Loud
Producer also agrees to provide the following billing to the original producers of the Play, on the title page of the program only, each credit appearing in the same size and font:
The Scottsboro Boys received its World Premiere at the Vineyard Theatre, Douglas Aibel, Artistic Director, Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell, Executive Director, New York City, February 2010.
 
Bios: In addition, you agree to include the Author’s biographies in all programs of the Play that include biographies of any other creative team members. Bios can be found on the MTI website at: http://www.mtishows.com/about/authors-bios
The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited

Included Materials

ItemQuantity Included
LIBRETTO/VOCAL BOOK16
PIANO CONDUCTOR'S SCORE2
PRODUCTION HANDBOOK DIGITAL1

Production Resources

Resource
LOGO PACK
LOGO PACK DIGITAL
PRODUCTIONPRO
REFERENCE RECORDING
TRANSPOSITIONS-ON-DEMAND

STANDARD ORCHESTRATION

InstrumentationDoubling
ALTERNATE ORCH PART 1
BASS
DRUMS
GUITAR
REED 1
TROMBONE
TRUMPET
VIOLIN