The subject matter of Parade is not that of your typical musical. However, with a Tony-award winning book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, Last Night of Ballyhoo) and a Tony-award winning original score by Jason Robert Brown (Songs for a New World, The Last Five Years), solemn historical events are transformed into a riveting and touching musical.
Parade tells the true story of Leo Frank (Dieter Bierbrauer), a Jewish Yankee living in Atlanta in 1913. Frank is falsely accused of killing thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Caroline Innerbichler), an employee of the pencil factory where he is superintendent. A poor defense team, coached witnesses and an anti-Semitic climate ultimately lead to Leo’s conviction, but it is in the love story that emerges from this impossible situation where the true heart and humanity of the production lie.
An unwilling inhabitant of Georgia, Leo is initially distant and cold toward his Southern wife, Lucille—played by the warm and engaging Ann Michels. Once Leo is sentenced to be hanged, Lucille dismisses her frivolous concern for picnics and such niceties as she becomes an unwavering voice for her husband’s defense. “You Don’t Know This Man,” she sings resolutely. In the second act, Leo and Lucille share a tender moment as they revisit their forgotten love for one another and sing “All the Wasted Time.” Any hesitation about this story being turned into a musical should be disappear in the wake of these moments of poignant humanity evoked by Uhry and Brown.
This musical was Brown’s Broadway debut, but the emotive and period-setting music shows no signs of inexperience; at times, even, the musical styling favorably recalls that of Stephen Sondheim. The gravity of the plot and the intensity of Brown’s music are complemented by the effective simplicity of the set, designed by Kate Sutton-Johnson—who recently won an Ivey Award as an emerging artist.
Other noteworthy performances are given by Randy Schmeling as the drunken reporter who fuels the sensationalism of Leo’s trial, Shawn Hamilton as the chilling chain-gain member who testifies against Leo, and Caroline Innerbichler as the sweet teen whose murder spawns the events that play out on stage.
This work, which originated on Broadway a decade ago, is a sobering look at history and a refreshing take on the American musical. Make sure to catch this Parade while you can.
Rebecca Mitchell (email@example.com) is a graduate of the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. She lives in Uptown Minneapolis and is currently working in public relations.