The Scottsboro boys were nine African-American teenagers wrongfully accused of rape in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. The case served as a landmark example of racial injustice and led to the end of all white juries in the south.
Their historic story was turned into a Broadway musical and opened to the public on October 31, 2010. Six weeks and only 49 performances later, due to soft ticket sales, the producers pulled the curtains on the show. Fans found the show’s premature closing to be ironic due to the good reviews the musical had received. With the recent announcement of 12 Tony Award nominations, The Scottsboro Boys is now allowing a trail of public response to the determine the its fate.
Visitors to the currently closed show’s website are immediately greeted with the message “Bring The Scottsboro Boys back to Broadway.” By visitors providing their email address on the site they pledge their support for the musical to return to Broadway this spring. Fulfilling the email submission declares the user’s intent to purchase tickets at a special price.
In an interview this April with the New York Post, the show’s producer Barry Weissler commented on the show’s early closing.
“The show was fully capitalized, but Broadway is a business, and sales dictate whether a show stays open or closes. We made the always unpleasant, but fiscally responsible decision to close when we did. Ever since we have dedicated ourselves to making sure that this brilliant piece of art finds future life, which in turn will benefit all of our original investors who will remain connected to this project.”
The early closing of The Scottsboro Boys is not the first time a Broadway show did not find success during its initial run.
The musical turned Academy Award winning film Chicago was initially met with lukewarm reviews and poor tickets sales. The original Broadway production opened in 1975, played over 900 shows and closed without much critical acclaim or Tony recognition. It was the 1996 Broadway revival that swept the Tony Awards with six wins and still holds the title as the fifth longest-running show.
The Scottsboro Boys associate producer Brett England weighed in on the future of the Broadway show. England feels that the story of the historic civil rights case is important and needs to be told. “The show is about a pivotal time in our American history, dealing with race relations and two specific landmark decisions in our judicial system that would change the way our nation treated African-Americans or any disenfranchised minority group.”
After initially receiving great reviews and today the acclaim of several Tony Award nominations, Broadway spectators are left asking themselves “why were ticket sales so low?”
Producers of the Broadway musical have been asking themselves the same question, England says, “When the show was in theaters last fall, ticket sales were low. Maybe people were just not ready to see challenging theater without a major star in the cast. We weren’t your typical large scale musical; we didn’t have big fancy costumes and big fancy numbers. It was a challenging piece of theater, it was art.”
Many of the current long running musicals on Broadway like Mamma Mia, The Lion King, Wicked, and Jersey Boys deliver lighter and more upbeat story lines in contrast to the heaviness of reality.
According to England, The Scottsboro Boys did have happier and comedic essentials but also dealt with serious subject matters that would inevitably make viewers pause.
“There was an element of this production that made people uncomfortable, but that was purposeful. The best art holds up a mirror and makes us examine our society and what we think. This piece made you think about race and realize that maybe there still is residual impact from that history that can affect our day to day lives.”
There still is a possibility for a Broadway return for The Scottsboro Boys musical. Fans and their continued support of this show will have the final say. With 12 Tony nominations and a scheduled performance on next month’s nationally televised award’s ceremony, the momentum of support might just bring this show back to Broadway.
“We are not ruling out any opportunities for a return to Broadway and are remaining optimistic on the future of this show,” says England.