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The Old Globe Scores With ‘The Scottsboro Boys’

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Aired 5/12/11

The Tony nominated, controversial musical "The Scottsboro Boys" is just one of the surprises in the newly announced season at The Old Globe. The theater in Balboa Park will stage four world premieres starting this fall. The Union-Tribune's theater critic Jim Hebert joins us to talk about the Globe's announcement.

The Tony nominated, controversial musical "The Scottsboro Boys" is just one of the surprises in the newly announced season at The Old Globe. The theater in Balboa Park will stage four world premieres starting this fall. The Union-Tribune's theater critic Jim Hebert joins us to talk about the Globe's announcement.

Guest:

Jim Hebert is the theater critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, our round up of arts and culture this week includes the book announcement by The Old Globe Theatre that it will present four world premiere plays next seen. We'll hear about the lineup that includes a controversial Tony nominated musical. Then we'll [CHECK AUDIO] sly and sultry production of car men. Plus we'll hear about changes at San Diego diversionary theatre, and a new film starring Mel Gibson that might have sounded like a good idea at the time. That's all ahead this hour on These Days, first the news. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

During had hour of the show, we'll talk about everything from Mel Gibson's rather strange new movie to San Diego's gay and lesbian theatre seen. But first, the Tony nominated controversial new musical, the Scottsboro boys, is just one [CHECK AUDIO] the theatre in Balboa Park will stage four world premieres starting this fall. The Union Tribune's theatre critic Jim Ebert joins us to talk about the Globe's announcement. Good morning, Jim.

HEBERT: Good morning, Maureen, thanks for inviting me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, The Old Globe really announced last week when the Tony nominations were announced, department they? The Scotts borrow boys surprised everyone.

HEBERT: Yeah, this is a musical that only lasted about six weeks on Broadway, if you don't count [CHECK AUDIO] because of its approach to the racial themes of so when the globe chose the show as part of its up coming season, television exciting from an artistic standpoint, because a lot of people, hardcore theatre people really admire the show. But this didn't exactly figure to be a hot ticket. And then the show earned 12 Tony nominations last week, which actually was second only to the musical the book of Mormon. So that announcement actually coincided with the Globe's season announcement, and it just sent a ton of attention to the theatre's way.

CAVANAUGH: [CHECK AUDIO].

HEBERT: Yeah, first of all, it has a pretty long history. Not only the creation of the show, but the history that it documents. It's based on an infamous criminal criminal case from the thirties where this was a group of nine young black men in Alabama who were accused of crimes including raping two white women, and they were actually convicted several times mostly by all white juries, and they spent time in prison over long, dragged out appeals. And many years later, they were all exonerated. But the -- it pretty much shattered their lives. So John Kander and Fred Ebb, who are the team who wrote cabaret and Chicago among other musicals got together with the director, Susan Surlman, a few years ago. Actually, it was about a decade ago. And they started developing the piece. Fred Ebb, who was the lyricist, died in 2004, and that put the project on hold for a while. But they finally got it off Broadway last spring. And then onto Broadway in the fall. It did really well off Broadway, and then the Broadway production, you know, got mixed reviews and had these protests to deal with. Of so I don't think there was a lot of expectation that by the time the Tony noms came around that it was gonna get much attention.

CAVANAUGH: Let's hear a piece from the Scotts borrow boys, this is from the original off Broadway cast album. And this is the minstrel march.

(Audio Recording Played).

CAVANAUGH: That is from the controversial musical, the Scottsboro boys, that's the original off Broadway cast performing the minstrel march. And the Scotts borrow boys, after receiving a ton of Tony nominations, is coming to The Old Globe. [CHECK AUDIO].

HEBERT: It kind of gets to the heart of why it could be considered a bold choice, and why it was subject to protests. It uses the conventions of the old minstrel shows, which were a tradition dating back to, I think just after the civil war. And they essentially made fun of black people. They put performers in black face. So this musical actually uses that form to make a point about prejudice. And I think in one interpretation would be to kind of give these characters some power back by giving them ownership of these cliches and stereotypes that were used against them. But some people, it didn't come off that way. It came off as racism. And so yeah, I think it is bold from that standpoint at the very least.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let's move on to some of the other choices that The Old Globe has made. Four world premieres will be staged in the next season.

HEBERT: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: What are they, Jim?

HEBERT: Yeah, there actually could end up being five. There was another one said to be announced, but that was pulled back, and there's now, like, a TBA slot in the season. But another one is a musical called some lovers. And everybody knows the name Burt Bacharach. And this is new music from him. He's teamed with Steven Sader who wrote the book to the musical will spring awakening with Duncan chic, and that was huge. This one is based on the O. Henry story, the gift of the magi. And that's the one where the wife [CHECK AUDIO] her hair to buy a chain for her husband's watch, [CHECK AUDIO].

CAVANAUGH: Right. I remember.

HEBERT: Yeah, so it's -- it takes off on that. And so it should be -- it's a really interesting combination. These people coming from very different generations, but it's been workshopped around New York, and it seems promising. There's also -- do you want me to -- you wanted to hear about all the productions?

CAVANAUGH: Well, yeah, I'm wondering, there's been that involves a television reality show?

HEBERT: Right. The show is called -- the musical is called nobody love it is you, and that's what the show called too. It's kind of a dating show. But it's kind of a dating by humiliation sort of show where this character goes on and tries to win back his ex. And it becomes a sort of -- he's torn between same and relinking with the love of his life.

CAVANAUGH: And there's one that has to do with homer's epic poem, the odd see, and it's a musical?

HEBERT: Yeah. Although that show is actually not part of the season proper. That is being done as part of the Globe's, what they call their southeastern San Diego residence project. And it's -- it's a community based initiative. I think in the show, I'm not exactly sure what they're doing with the odd see, but it is -- it does involve music. And I think they're going to have a lot of people from the community involved in it, actually.

CAVANAUGH: Really. How so?

HEBERT: You know, as I say, this is still in development.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

HEBERT: But the director leer, [CHECK AUDIO] I hope I'm pronouncing that right, she's well known in New York for doing site specific projects, and I think that it's going to involve getting people from the community on stage and helping put the show together. Making it -- sort of melding the show, the story of the odd see with not only the globe's 75-year theatrical odd see, but also the history of San Diego in some ways. So specifics, more specifics to come about that, I think.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds like a daring season for The Old Globe, and really sort of a great way for this 75th anniversary to be celebrated. I want to thank you for telling us about it, Jim.

HEBERT: Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Jim Ebert is San Diego theatre critic for the Union Tribune. Coming up, we'll talk about the cast of the San Diego opera production of car men. But first a story about [CHECK AUDIO] diversionary theatre is celebrating its 25th anniversary and will soon have a new director. KPBS arts producer, Angela Carone, looks at how San Diego's LGBT theatre has changed with the times.

CARONE: It's no longer unusual to find a gay or lesbian character on television or in the movies. The Kids are All Right featured lesbian parents and won an Oscar. Glee is one of the most popular shows on television. The character of Kurt is gay and out to his peers.

KURT: Fin, I wanted your opinion on this. It's a swatch board. I'm redecorating my bedroom. Had it going for a hunting lodge meets Tom Ford's place in Bel Air. I was hoping you could help me out with the hunting lodge part.

FIN: I live in a closet. There's cow boy wall paper on the walls of but I guess that one's nice.

KURT: Toile? I pegged you as a chinoiserie type.

NEW SPEAKER: A lot of times I see in Glee, I think Kurt is a strong gay character, but not everyone's as strong as him. Not everyone's so out as him. And so there's other struggles.

CARONE: Thomas Hodges says those other struggles are often depicted on Divisionary's stage. Hodges is a 22-year-old playwright and composer who has worked with the theatre whose mission is to tell the stories of the queer community.

NEW SPEAKER: And a lot of times theatres don't want to do gay plays or they don't want to do a play that is just gay or just lesbian. So they have a theatre that comes with that focus. Those plays often speak for much more than just the queer community. They speak for all minorities.

NEW SPEAKER: Gigi Canton is standing in front of diversionary on [CHECK AUDIO] until the new director arrives in June.

NEW SPEAKER: So why don't we go upstairs? It's the last night of tech before the opening night of the world premiere of duly.

CARONE: Dooley is based on the real life experiences of doctor Tom Dooley, a charismatic naval officer who was forced out of the navy in the 1950s, long before don't ask don't tell. Actors are running a few scenes while a professional photographer snaps publicity photos. Tom vague founded diversionary 25†years ago. He says a professional photographer is a luxury he couldn't afford then.

NEW SPEAKER: We were itinerant, we had to carry our props and costumes and any from one inhospitable place at times to another, playing in non air conditioned theaters with heavy period costumes.

CARONE: Vague staged Diversionary's first show on the floor of a gay disco called West Coast Production Company. Vague directed, helped [] and even worked the box office of opening night was packed.

NEW SPEAKER: It's just electric. The people were hearing themselves and hearing about their experience. Many for the first time. And many for the first time in the theatre.

HEBERT: Today, divisionary is a solid midlevel theatre with a permanent home and an annual budget of $500,000. John Alexander was recently appointed its new executive director. While every theatre is struggling to attract audiences, Alexander says diversionary must attract audiences beyond the LGBT community.

NEW SPEAKER: I have so much respect for people who in the 70'ss were fighting when this wasn't an accepted cause. But I have to say I'm exciteds about the fact that we can make these themes universal and not have to limit ourselves to just gay stereotypes.

NEW SPEAKER: Alexander believes that one of the ways to reach broader audience system through pop culture.

NEW SPEAKER: Popular culture is not a derogatory term. What happened was in the 60s with the growth of the regional theatre movement, I think a lot of people were trying to create an important theatre that's serious and naval gazing, and I think that they forgot you can reach people more with pop culture.

CARONE: Alexander may be onto something. Currently the hottest ticket on Broadway is the book of Mormon, a musical about a long standing religious debate, told by the creatures of the irreverent TV show, south park. For These Days, I'm Angela Carone.

CAVANAUGH: The play, Dooley, is currently running at diversionary theatre in university heights. Coming up, we go behind the scenes of the opera, car men.

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