Explosive ‘Scottsboro Boys’ Show Will Close at $5 Million Loss

The cast of "The Scottsboro Boys" in New York. The musical by "Chicago" creators Kander and Ebb, is currently at the Lyceum Theatre. Photographer: Paul Kolnik/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

“The Scottsboro Boys,” a serious musical that drew protests and has struggled to find an audience since opening on Broadway on Oct. 31, will close on Sunday, Dec. 12, the producer said today.

“We couldn’t pay our bills,” Barry Weissler said in a telephone interview. Weissler, who is the lead producer with his wife, Fran, said the show consistently failed to sell enough tickets to cover its weekly running costs at the Lyceum Theatre.

The musical, the final effort by the composer-lyricist team of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb (who also co-wrote “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” among other celebrated shows), will close at a total loss of $5 million, Weissler said.

That figure includes money Weissler and his partners invested in the original production last spring at the nonprofit Vineyard Theater off-Broadway and a subsequent run at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis last summer. It also includes about $400,000 in loans the producers took out for the Broadway transfer, Weissler said.

“The Scottsboro Boys” concerns the fate of nine young black men accused of raping two white women in the South during the Great Depression. It is staged by Susan Stroman, best known as the choreographer and director of such hit shows as “Contact” and “The Producers.”

The show failed to capture the imagination of theatergoers, as indicated by poor and declining ticket sales. Last week, the show earned just $273,250, or 35 percent of its potential sales of $767,492, according to figures released by the Broadway League, a trade group that compiles theater statistics. It was one of the few shows to post a decline during the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday period.

Minstrel Show

The format of the musical, which presents the story as a minstrel show, has drawn fire from some in the black community since the Broadway opening on Oct. 31. Much of the protest, including pickets in front of the theater, has come from people who said they had not seen the show.

“If there was any group that ought to have supported ‘The Scottsboro Boys,’ it was the very people protesting it,” Weissler said. “But they were people who never saw it.”

Weissler spent this morning informing the company of the closing. The decision, he said, broke his heart.

“This has been one of the finest things Fran and I have ever produced,” he said. “This is a very humbling business.”

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