The Broadway Theatre Review: NYCC’s Broadway Revival of Parade
With a blast of bright white light, the Broadway revival of Parade marches itself forcibly onto the stage, surging from the sidelines once the love-making center stage comes to an end. It’s a compelling beginning, one that, as it turns out, doesn’t really add a whole lot to the proceedings. But the show finds its strong footing soon after. No doubt about it. I didn’t really understand the full need for the sexual interaction between the young soldier (Charlie Webb) and his pretty young companion (Ashlyn Maddox) that takes place in those first few moments, as well as the consistent reappearing of that same soldier, 50 years later, as an old man (Howard McGillin) throughout, other than to remind us that the old Confederate way of thinking still flies its flag strong and true. Even if the flags they are waving in this production of Parade make us feel uneasy and unsure.
Overall, the compounding effect is captivating and intense, as this musical, with a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (Songs for a New World; The Last Five Years), and originally co-conceived by Harold Prince (West Side Story), stands strong, taking on race, antisemitism, and prejudice in “The Old Red Hills of Home” South. It dutifully dramatizes the disturbing but true story of a 1913 trial of a Jewish factory manager who was wrongly accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old young girl and employee of the factory. The musical revival is as timely as can be, and as surefooted as one could hope for. And as directed carefully and artistically by Michael Arden (Broadway/Deaf West’s Spring Awakening), Parade delivers on all fronts.
After a well-received short run as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series, this tense and sharp musical finally has made its way back. I didn’t really know much about this musical, but I was surprised to hear that it first premiered on Broadway in December 1998 starring Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello in the two lead roles. It won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score (out of nine nominations), not surprisingly, and six Drama Desk Awards. And I’m guessing the accolades will come pouring in once again when the Tony Award nominations are announced.
Portraying that doomed factory manager, Leo Frank, Ben Platt (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) once again finds power and passion in abundance, striding back onto the Broadway stage both sheepishly and strongly. He grabs hold of the part, demanding justice and the truth for the man who tried his imperfect best to live a dutiful life. Married to his loving wife, Lucille, played spectacularly by Micaela Diamond (Broadway’s The Cher Show), the pair seems well-matched, both in their characterizations and their vocal expertise. Their singing and emotionality soar, especially in Lucille’s “You Don’t Know This Man” and Leo’s captivating Statement, “It’s Hard to Speak my Heart“, as the piece gets darker and darker, breaking apart our collective hearts as it marches to the end. We all know this is not going to end well for this innocent man, but we are drawn in completely as the two begin, quite quietly, finding a simple and tender, yet complicated connection in their marriage.
We feel their bond as Leo gets ready and makes his way to the office on this odd day of celebration in Atlanta. He sidesteps the parade, which is oddly celebrating the confederacy and a war lost, leaving his wife to picnic alone. We collectively wish he’d stay home, giving in to the gentle pleas of his wife. Things might have turned out so differently if he had. But this is the tale that must be told, to be witness to, as we are simultaneously given a glimpse into the soon-to-be shortened life of Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle), being flirted with by a young boy (Jake Pedersen) about “The Picture Show“, as she rides a trolley car on her way to the factory to collect her wages, at ten cents an hour. The white balloon floats above her head, just like her spirit, simple and buoyant, until it escapes her hand, and floats away from her into the heavens above.
“The Dream of Atlanta” isn’t so true, fair, or right, as it doesn’t take long for that Jewish factory manager to be accused of the raping and murdering Mary Phagan, even as we see clearly that it wasn’t, and couldn’t possibly be Leo. The “Hammer of Justice” isn’t honest, that becomes obvious, but it is the way it works, as we watch the unhonourable Hugh Dorsey, an ambitious politician with a “lousy conviction record,” played to perfection by Paul Alexander Nolan (Broadway’s Slave Play) decide, regardless of proof, to convict, at least one of the two men who were around the factory at the time. Would it be the simple black man, Newt Lee (Eddie Cooper), the night watchman who discovered the body, or the Jewish man who wrings his hands and looks down at his feet? This is “Real Big News“, we are told, by the opportunist reporter, Britt Craig, dynamically portrayed by Jay Armstrong Johnson (NYCC Encores’ A Chorus Line), as we watch the spin gets spinning. Dorsey, with the blessing of Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton, as played strongly by Sean Allan Krill (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill) with his wife, Sally (Stacie Bono), standing at his side, turns the accusing finger towards Leo Frank, for no other reason than not wanting to hang another black man. “We gotta do better.“
“A Rumblin’ and A Rollin’” towards the trial, this wrongly orchestrated circus is sensationalized by the newspapers and arouses some pretty disturbing antisemitic hatred across the stage, and the whole state of Georgia that sometimes, as a whole, gets a bit lost inside the jumble of the large cast of characters. Yet, despite the messiness of grieving mothers (Kelli Barrett) and observing servants (Douglas Lyons, Courtnee Carter), the “That’s What He Said” testimonies are a thoroughly uncomfortable parade to bear witness to, as a musical game of justice chairs is performed, most fascinatingly by the cast that includes Sophia Manicone, Maddox, and DeMartino, as members of the community, the factory, and another one straight from Frank’s own home, Minnie McKnight (Danielle Lee Greaves). It’s played out strong and deliberate, particularly and most strikingly when Platt’s Leo takes on the alternate guise of the evil Jewish man-character that is being portrayed by the witnesses, orchestrating the murder and rape of a young girl, untruely formulated by the ambitious Dorsey.
He pulls out all stops to get what he wants and needs from the jury in a masterclass of duplicity and dishonesty. But the final blow comes from the dynamic and magnetic coerced testimony by Jim Conley, as portrayed magnificently by the super talented Alex Joseph Grayson (Broadway’s The Girl From…) that brings the musical theatre roof down on the audience in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The hypnotizing performance of Grayson is completely unstoppable. It’s clear. There is no other way this trial would go in front of the complicit Judge Roan, portrayed by McGillin (Broadway’s Gigi), and as we sit and watch Act One swing its way horrifically toward the verdict, we cannot help but feel the sickness in our stomachs grow. And the disgusting smell of injustice fill the interval air.
The “Pretty Music” and “The Glory” lyrics spiral out as strong and true as the cause, delivering the ideals forward beautifully and emotionally thanks to the fine work of music director/conductor Tom Murray (Broadway’s Anastasia) and music coordinator Kimberlee Wertz (Broadway’s The Music Man), is laid out bare. The sound is magnificent, pushing out the intricate story with a rhythmic and complicated style that contains so much meaning within the array of numerous complimentary musical genres. The formula is intense, enhanced by the strong straight-shooting choreography of Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant (OBS’s King Kong). As the stage is crowded to the rim with benches and chairs, infused with impeccable tension by scenic designer Dane Laffrey (Broadway’s Once on This Island), with solid costuming by Susan Hilferty (Broadway’s Funny Girl), deliberate lighting by Heather Gilbert (Broadway’s The Sound Inside), and a clear sound design by Jon Weston (Broadway’s Paradise Square). The large squared statement at the heart of the piece gives a strength to the sentencing, which is only enhanced and elevated by the stellar work of projection designer Sven Ortel (Broadway’s Thoughts of a Colored Man), who gives a historic face to the profiling and to the proceedings.
But the true heart of this intricate and wise musical lies in the very capable and talented hands of Diamond, who takes charge of the stage, even as her character’s husband insists he needs to “Do It Alone.” It’s her under-estimated passion and incredible voice that drives this story to its history-making conclusion, as we rally behind the determined Lucille as she pushes on the departing Governor Slaton to commute Frank’s death sentence to life in prison after a further, and more fair, investigation. Leo Frank is transferred, thankfully, to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, and even though that is where the story should have found a more peaceful ending, the most tragic part of this true-to-life tale comes knocking, somewhat due to the hate-mongering of a writer for The Jeffersonian, an extremist right-wing newspaper, by the name of Tom Watson, played strongly by Manoel Felciano (Red Bull’s The Alchemist). Leo Frank, the wronged and innocent man, pulled from his life by antisemitism and racial hate, was hanged from an oak tree in the hometown of Mary Phagan. For no other reason than being a Jewish man who happened to be working on a holiday in the same building on the day this young girl was killed.
On a side note, the events surrounding the investigation and trial led to two very different groups emerging from the fray; the revival of the defunct KKK and the birth of the Jewish Civil Rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Parade, the revival musical that has stormed onto Broadway, brings all of that complicated energy to the forefront, expanding and enlightening, while not shying away from the horror of the events. “Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes?“, the musical asks. And in the hands of Arden, its director; its fantastically talented two lead players, Platt and the incomparable Diamond; and the entire cast and crew, Parade marches ever-so strong and true. A masterpiece and master class, not to be missed. Thanks again, Encores! You’ve delivered once again.
[…] that’s going to be an incredible race to the finishing line – my guess, these two, plus Parade, and maybe Camelot will get nominated?). And I’m not just talking about Sondheim shows. I’m […]
[…] Parade […]
[…] Parade […]
[…] PARADE […]
[…] hit shows also received a number of nominations: the Encores! revival, Parade starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond picked up six nominations, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon […]
[…] the material inside every song and dance. Yet, if Encores! was hoping this would become another Parade or, even better yet, something as successful as the Into the Woods Broadway transfer, I think […]