UPDATED: Provocative musical ‘The Scottsboro Boys’ returning soon to the New York stage?

The cast of The Scottsboro Boys.

BREAKING NEWS: New World Stages reacts. Click HERE.

UPDATED: An earlier version of this post conflated the Broadway show where this news was overheard with the source’s current Broadway credits. This update clarifies the source’s credits and reflects that Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has now reached out to New World Stages and the producer for comment.

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has heard an interesting bit of theater gossip. We’re not generally given to reporting gossip, but the source of this one seems impeccable.

At intermission during the matinee performance of Leap of Faith on Broadway Saturday, April 7, a man greeted some friends near the bar. We couldn’t help but hear him reveal to his friend that he’s a Broadway producer. We didn’t immediately recognize him, but he mentioned that he’s producing Clybourne Park, a straight play now on Broadway, as well as a current Broadway musical comedy.

As the conversation went on, the subject of the short-lived Kander and Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys,came up. It turns out the guy also was a producer of that provocative, somewhat unsettling minstrel-style musical about an infamous racist incident involving accusations of rape by a white girl against nine black teenage boys in 1931.

“It’s coming back, soon, to New World Stages,” he said with obvious pride. Lately, New World is where Broadway shows that, for one reason or another are no longer viable in a Broadway house, take on new life. Rent was revived there, Avenue Q and Million Dollar Quartet live on there. And soon, it seems, The Scottsboro Boys will find new life there, too.

We didn’t recognize the producer who was doing all the talking. T-+here are only one or two producers whose images who are seared in our memory, including Elizabeth McCann and Steve Klein, both of whom were involved with Passing Strange. But a few minutes of research on IBDB.com and Google Images helped us figure out that the guy was, indeed, a producer of the shows in question. So we’re guessing he knows what he’s talking about.

Scottsboro got good reviews in its off-Broadway run at the Vineyard Theatre. (Full disclosure: Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is friend and huge fan of Colman Domingo, one of its stars.) It took us a bit of time to get past our feeling that it was somehow wrong to laugh at such a serious true story from the sad history of race relations in the United States. But once we set that aside and got into the spirit of the show, we really enjoyed it. But others in our audience, including a black couple we encountered nearby after the show, left feeling more uncomfortable than entertained.

The show fell flat when it moved to Broadway, running for just 29 previews and 49 regular  performances in the fall of 2010. The feelings of discomfort dogged it from the beginning of its run, and the show drew protesters who claimed it was racist. It also earned 12 Tony Award nominations and gained some rabid fans who continue to beat the drum for its return.

The Scottsboro Boys hasn’t disappeared. It got an extended run in Philadelphia earlier this year, and is set to begin performances April 29 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, Calif. And it’s scheduled to play at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco starting June 21.

Colman Domingo, John Cullum (seated) and Forrest McClendon.

Starring stage and TV veteran John Cullum as well as the fabulous  Domingo, who achieved a great deal of exposure in “Passing Strange,” the show tackled the serious subject in a rather comical light. And it left audiences feeling more than a little uncomfortable about the urge to laugh at what was essentially a horrifying subject.

We’ve emailed the producer and the folks at New World Stages for comment. Stay tuned!

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