Monday, February 7, 2011

Famed Composer Joins Librettist and Actor to Discuss Collaboration on The Scottsboro Boys

Chestertown—Broadway comes to Washington College on Tuesday, February 22, when the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Department of Drama join forces to present “History on Broadway: The Scottsboro Boys.” In this special program, legendary Broadway composer John Kander, librettist David Thompson and actor Forrest McClendon will discuss the creation of The Scottsboro Boys, a new musical based on one of American history’s most infamous racial dramas.
The program will begin at 5:30 p.m., onstage at Decker Theatre in the Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts, on the Washington College campus. Associate Professor of Drama Michele Volanksy will moderate.
The Scottsboro Boys, which ran on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre this fall, is the final collaboration by musical theatre giants John Kander and Fred Ebb, (Chicago, Cabaret,) with a book by David Thompson, who adapted the script for Chicago’s current revival. This daring musical explores a fascinating and dark chapter in American history with arresting originality.
Deliberately adopting the structure of the early 20th century minstrel shows, a deeply racist form of theatre, the musical tells the story of the notorious 1930’s “Scottsboro” case, in which nine African-American teenagers, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were pulled from a box car in Alabama and unjustly accused, tried and convicted of a terrible crime. The case electrified the nation, and the young men languished in jail for years, while the case was tried, and retried, ultimately reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.
On stage, the cast of the The Scottsboro Boys, which included Forrest McClendon as Mr. Tambo, subverts the form of the minstrel show to highlight the injustice of the accusations and the hypocrisies of the American criminal justice system. At times shocking and controversial, The Scottsboro Boys is also raucously funny and deeply moving in its portrayal of race and justice in 1930’s America.
Prior to the public conversation, Forrest McClendon will conduct a special master class. This master class, exclusively for current Drama students at Washington College, has been made possible by the Maxcy Family Visiting Artist Endowment.
John Kander is one of the most esteemed and prolific composers in the American theatre. In 1962, he teamed with the late Fred Ebb to forge one of the longest-running and most successful creative partnerships in Broadway history. Together they wrote music and lyrics for some of the late 20th century’s most popular and provocative musicals, including Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Together, Kander and Ebb have garnered three Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards and two Grammy Awards for their songs, as well as countless other honors including an Academy Award nomination for New York, New York, which has become the official song of New York City. In 1998, Kander and Ebb were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.
David Thompson, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, has collaborated with Kander and Ebb on scripts for the revivals of Flora, the Red Menace and Chicago. He has also written the librettos for And the World Goes ‘Round, Steel Pier, The Scottsboro Boys, Thou Shalt Not (with music by Harry Connick, Jr.,) and The Look of Love, a revue of the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. He is currently working on adaptations of two films, The Blue Angel and Little Miss Marker. He is the recipient of the Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and was nominated for a Tony award for Steel Pier.
Forrest McClendon made his Broadway debut last fall in The Scottsboro Boys, playing ‘Mr. Tambo’ and several other roles. Prior work includes Off-Broadway’s James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire and Swoony Planet. He has extensive credits in regional theatres from Texas to Connecticut, and has received the Barrymore Award for his work in Avenue X at the 11th Hour Theatre Company in Philadelphia, a Central Texas Critics Table Award for The America Play at the Zachary Scott Theatre, and an Audelco Award nomination for James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire. He studied music at the University of Connecticut, and has taught musical theatre at Temple University and Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.
Michele Volansky is Associate Professor of Drama at Washington College and Associate Artist for the PlayPenn New Play Development Conference. Volansky also served on the artistic staffs at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Philadelphia Theatre Company. She has worked on over 150 new and established plays, including the Broadway productions of Buried Child and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She is the 1999 inaugural recipient of the Elliot Hayes Award for Dramaturgy and is a past President of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. She is also a doctoral student at the University of Hull (England), writing about the critics Kenneth Tynan and Frank Rich.
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About the Starr Center
The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – and particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. For more information on the Center, visit
About the Department of Drama
Washington College drama students play many different characters and many different roles behind-the-scenes, while learning about the theatrical arts and about themselves. Courses exploring the history of theater, acting, directing, design and dramaturgy prepare students for internships, graduate school and careers in theater. In Fall 2009, the renovated Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts became the centerpiece of the drama department, providing a state-of-the-art environment for performers, technicians and audiences. For more information visit
About the Maxcy Family Visiting Artist Endowment
Established in 2001 by Edward M. Maxcy, a co-founder of The Washington College Friends of the Arts, the Visiting Artists Endowment provides support for the drama Department to bring to campus a guest actor, director, stage manager, set designer, or other gifted theater professional. The visiting artist will provide instruction and/or performances and will interact with the students and faculty to enhance the quality of the theater program at the College.

Photos: Forrest McClendon (at right) performs in "The Scottsboro Boys" during its fall 2010 run at the Lyceum. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

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