On April 26, 1913, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan was found murdered in a dirty basement at a pencil factory in Atlanta. The case became an national obsession because the man accused of the murder was a New York Jew, Leo Frank, and by all accounts his trial and subsequent appeals were highly politicized. The case against him seemed to have been wholly fabricated; evidence pointed to another man, a black janitor at the factory, Jim Conley.
The case was sensationalized in the press and used as an excuse to resurrect the KKK, though it also caused the birth of the Anti-Defamation League. The Governor of Georgia eventually commuted Frank's sentence after personally going through all the evidence. Then a gang of thugs that included some highly-placed members of the Georgia political world dragged Frank from his cell and hanged him, making him the only Jew ever lynched in American history.
This story has had many retellings on stage and screen, but one of the most celebrated was the musical Parade, with music by Jason Robert Brown, a book by Alfred Uhry (a relative of whom was said to have owned the pencil factory), and direction by Hal Prince. The show had a brief Broadway run and garnered Tonys for Best Score and Best Book, but closed after mixed reviews, though its creators tried to keep it alive by sending it on national tour. Well, the Mark Taper Forum has given the show a second life, with an all-star cast and some rewrites (the production comes from the Donmar Warehouse in London).
The story is still effective and the new staging by Rob Ashford cuts down the cast to a workable 21 with some doubling and offstage singing. The cast couldn’t be stronger, with T. R. Knight (of Grey’s Anatomy) playing Leo Frank and Laura Pulver his faithful wife Lucille (she is the only holdover from London), along with Christian Hoff (Tony winner for Jersey Boys), Davis Gaines, (of LA's Phantom), Charlotte d’Amboise (of Chicago), and Michael Berresse (of Kiss Me Kate). The result is a beautifully sung and danced, cut-down version of the show.
The cuts are supposed to have made the show more palatable, but for most people I think this will still come across as one harrowing story to have tried to make a musical out of (an opera, maybe.) In any case, this Parade is a wonderful theatrical event and a chance to see and hear an amazing cast.
Parade runs at the Mark Taper Forum until Nov. 15.Powered by Sidelines