As she entered the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center on Wednesday for opening night of "The Scottsboro Boys," Paula Abdul said she was excited to see the show.
A musical theater fan, Abdul said, "I go to everything in New York," adding that she wished theater could be a more dominant part of the Los Angeles scene.
The crowd also included actors Angela Bassett, Regina King of "Southland," Kym Whitley of "Sparks," Dawnn Lewis of "A Different World," Kearran Giovanni of "Major Crimes," Calvin Sykes of "Funny People," Jason George of "Grey's Anatomy," and singer Kenny Lattimore.
"The Scottsboro Boys" tells the story of nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape in Alabama in 1931 and found guilty, despite their apparent innocence. Although its minstrel show-telling seemed an improbable premise for a Broadway musical, the play received 12 Tony nominations in 2011.
"It's a wretched chapter in our history," Bassett said at the after-party, which followed at the nearby Figueroa Hotel. "By telling their story, we honor those nine young men."
Lewis called the play "powerful," saying, "It's a hard story to tell," as she and many other partygoers discussed issues, such as the importance of telling the truth and examining cultural stereotypes.
Shortly after receiving a standing ovation, the cast joined the party at the historic hotel, an L.A. landmark with its Moroccan theme, combined with Mexican tiles, Persian rugs and a statue of Buddha overlooking the lobby.
A Tony nominee for best actor in this musical, Joshua Henry joined friends at a table beside the swimming pool. "It's phenomenal to be able to tell the story every night to a new audience," Henry said, talking of how the case sparked legislation to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Given the exuberant score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and Susan Stroman's choreography, which includes acrobatics, Southern cake walks, a jaunty tap dance and a minstrel number in blackface, the production came as a surprise to some.
"Everything goes against the story," said Judie Stein, a sponsor of the play, "which makes it so wonderful."
Before the evening ended, L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry presented a proclamation, praising the Center Theatre Group for capturing the African and African American experience and sharing it, Perry emphasized, "brilliantly," in its current and recent repertoire. In addition to "The Scottsboro Boys," she cited August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" at the Mark Taper Forum, "The Royale" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and "Fela!" a previous production at the Ahmanson Theatre.
"The Scottsboro Boys" continues through June 30.
Check back on Culture Monster later for Charles McNulty's review of "The Scottsboro Boys."
Find more of Ellen Olivier's reports on social happenings at Society News LA.