Ninth in a series of Broadway report
NEW YORK – “Parade” is a conflicted musical by Alfred Uhry (book) and Jason Robert Brown (music), mixing history, political and religious sentiments, racial tension and a justice system that fails.
Yep, these are unlikely themes for a stage musical, but “Parade” – playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre – is an important work provoking more questions than answers. The story seems biased, but truth be told, this is a case from a century ago and is based on actual events, which happened in Southern Georgia . And whoa, the case has not yet been resolved in the courts. That’s what was said in a finale projection.
Thus, should this be called a musical comedy? It’s more of a musical travesty…a mistrial of justice.
Micaela Diamond, left, is Lucille Frank; Ben Platt is Leo Frank, in “Parade.”
Leo Frank (Ben Platt, a Tony winner for “Dear Evan Hansen)”, sings and acts with flair and fortitude here. He is boyish, charming and calm, a supervisor of the National Pencil Co. in Marietta, Georgia, where he settles with wife Lucille (an impressive Micaela Diamond). They are Jewish and feel uncomfortable and targeted.
Frank has moved from Chicago and the prejudicious climate immediately slaps him in the face; he is arrested and accused of killing a teenage fellow employee, Mary Phagen (Erin Rose Doyle), whose dead body is found in the basement in the morning.
The victim was a nighttime employee, who possibly was last seen by Leo, since she comes to his office to secure a minimal paycheck issued by him. There are other logical suspects, but the residents are determined to convict Leo.
Thus, his discomfort is emphasized when he sings “How Can I Call This Home,” even if there are Southern Jews. His musical lament: “I thought that Jews were Jews, but I was wrong.”
A trial is a major element in the production, but a too-high-raised central set serving primarily as the courtroom where a judge prevails, forces playgoers to crane their necks. Both sides of this elevated “island” is flanked on either side with benches reflecting a courtroom.
An elevated box, intended to be the court, means front patrons must neck-stretch.
The height of the court means neck-stretching for those in orchestra rows 1 to 4, or possibly 5. I was in a side orchestra seat in the fourth row, and it took some heightening of the head to get a good view of the staged action.
Thus, Dane Laffrey’s scenic design is flawed. However, the elevated court has an intermission mission: Platt and his Leo character, clad in spiffy jailbird gear, silently sits through the intermission, alone and peaceful – reminiscent of the between-act sit-down of Old Deutoronomy in the musical “Cats.”
All the authorities appear to jaded and crooked as the news reporter Britt Craig (Jay Armstrong Johnson) who only seeks testimony from racist sources. Ditto, Hugh Dorsey (Paul Alexander Nolan), a lawyer as crooked as a pretzel.
Director Michael Arden’s direction, from a previously a small-scale endeavor at City Center, brings life and heart in the moments focusing on the besieged and innocent Frank couple. So devoted that she is, Lucille brings lunches and dinners while Leo is in custody, and the inequitable mishandling of the case brings them closer while their woes get out of hand. Their magnetism of love and affection is reflected in composer Brown’s sturdy and compelling tunes like “This Is Not Over Yet.”
Projections of newspaper front pages reflect the bias of South Georgia.
The production constantly relies on projections by Sven Ortel; not that it matters, but the slides and vintage photographs are of actual people, with projections of newspaper front pages reporting the biases of the case.
This is not a spoiler, since the fact of the matter is a jury brought on a guilty vote and Leo Frank was hung in 1915 in a questionable lynching.
And again, the vocal dynamics of Platt and Diamond carry the show, making them a new Broadway dream duet for explosive emotional volley, with powerful delivery of “This Is Not Over Yet” and the romantic “All the Wasted Time,” which brings down the curtain of this devastating story.
There are parade scenes in the opening of the play, midway through the story, and at the conclusion, but has nothing to do with the Leo Frank case. The celebrations reflect the memories of the Southerners’ defeat in the Civil War. …
And that’s Show Biz. ….
“Parade” is a musical feature a book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, originally directed by Harold Price, directed now by Michael Arden, with music conducted by Tom Murray and choreography by Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant
Playing at the Bernard J. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway