To close out this high school theater season, Holly Stanfield, an Educational Theatre Association Hall of Fame member, is bringing “The Scottsboro Boys” to the Bradford High School stage.
The Broadway musical is based on the infamous trials that started in 1931 in Alabama.
Chris Carter, a professional actor and choreographer, is directing the show. Stanfield is the show’s producer and vocal director.
In addition to local students, the cast features three professional actors/mentors — Braxton Molinaro, Denzel Tsopnang and David L. Murray Jr.
Murray and Molinaro are Bradford graduates who performed in shows together as students.
The two are professional actors — Murray in New York; Molinaro in Los Angeles — and welcomed the chance to come home for the show.
For Murray, this is also the first time he’s performing on stage with his younger brother, Ben Woods, a senior at Bradford.
Stanfield wanted to do this show after seeing it on Broadway.
“It takes your breath away,” she said of the musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb (of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” fame).
“I enjoy musical theater,” she said, “but in general, musicals don’t hit me the same way straight (non-musical) plays do. But this one just really struck me.
“This is the only musical that’s ever done this for me; I had a real emotional reaction.”
Part of the show’s power, she said, “is because it’s a true story. When you’re sitting in front of people on a stage, the show tells the story in a poignant and emotional way.”
Carter said of the Bradford students in the cast, “These kids take my breath away. And because they are the same age as the real boys in the Scottsboro case, it really resonates in the audience. You’ll see kids you know on stage and think about your own kids.”
Story remains relevant
The show is based on the so-called “Scottsboro Boys” case. It started in 1931, when nine young black men were taken off a train in Alabama and accused of raping two white women. After several years of convictions, death sentences and imprisonment, the nine were eventually vindicated.
Eventually, all the defendants were exonerated, though it wasn’t until 2013 that the state of Alabama posthumously pardoned all the defendants.
“It’s still relevant today,” Carter said, “because racism is so present. This younger generation should know that we’ve gone through a lot already, but racism is a real thing. We’ve made great strides, but it’s about equality.”
“It’s difficult,” he added, “as an African-American man to talk about racism without getting angry — I’ve seen some people drive themselves crazy over that anger; it can become an obsession.”
While researching the real-life Scottsboro case, he said, “some of the kids said ‘I wouldn’t let them do that to me.’ They have no idea how life was then. That’s why we’re doing this story.”
This is the full Broadway version of the musical and is a Music Theatre International pilot production. Representatives from MTI will come to Bradford to see a performance. The show will also be performed as a late-night production at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb., in June.
In Nebraska, Susan Stroman, who directed and choreographed the Broadway production, will do a talkback after the show.
Stanfield brought in the three adult actors to work with the students “as a great way to connect our students to the larger theatrical world,” she said, adding that several of the local Bradford students are going on to college theater departments.
Stanfield hopes audience members “come away from this show wanting to have a reasonable discussion about these issues.”
For his part, Carter hopes the show spurs people “to be more aware of racism and how to help our country deal with it.”
History, Stanfield added, “can inform the present. By knowing more about our history, it can help us make a connection and see where we need to go. It can shine a light on a path we need to follow as a country.
“We’re all in this together, and this is one of the few places on this planet where we can have a discussion and move forward.”