Posted on July 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

Zachary Prince and Lauren Kennedy in Theatre Raleigh’s production of “Parade”

Imagine writing a musical about a famous miscarriage of justice in the South — a musical! Now imagine that it is searingly powerful and poignant. Theatre Raleigh’s Hot Summer Nights production of Parade is both. With book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Parade will take your breath away with its sudden turns, and grip you tightly as injustice is heaped upon corruption. But the funniest thing is, it’ll also make you laugh a bit, but laugh deeply.

As performed at the Kennedy Theater as the fourth presentation of the 2014 Hot Summer Nights season, it is near perfect. A dreadful, heinous crime is committed and bigotry guides determination of the perpetrator, despite utterly insufficient evidence.

Set designer Chris Bernier has structured a simple bare space that converts readily, by the flexible use of very few pieces choreographically moved, into office space, courtroom, factory, prison, city square, police station, governor’s ballroom, and several other locations. The ease with which these scene changes occur is remarkable. The theater has been reconstructed to accommodate about 25 patrons on either side of the stage area.

The facility of movement of the characters, sometimes including their resetting the scene, the quickness in which those changes occur and the flow from crowd to intimate scenes show a close collaboration between director Eric Woodall and choreographer Sherry Lee Allen. Woodall keeps tight rein on his 16 actors, who appear on the mark dozens of times in widely varied places.

Professionalism is high. Characterizations are believable and well expressed, and every moment of the action is taut and crisp.

Lauren Kennedy plays Lucille Frank with strength and abiding love. Her voice is magnificent; and her handling of the modern, almost operatic form of the music is masterful. Her ability to bring the arc of Lucille’s experience to us is profound.

Lucille’s husband Leo Frank is portrayed by Zachary Prince as a sturdy, upright citizen, a good husband, a relatively simple man for whom his Judaism has never been a burden. Leo Frank finds the Southern customs and language distinctly foreign. Prince’s duets with Kennedy soar with musical emotion.

Maurice Johnson appears in three different roles, two of which are the same character under different names. Johnson’s powerful singing voice beautifully enhances all three characters, and his gruff assertive manner as the chain-gang prisoner has a comedic touch to it.

Minnie McKnight, who betrays her kind employers Leo and Lucille Frank, comes to us through Phylicia Mpasi, who also does fine work both dancing and singing in a delightful duet as Angela, one of the governor’s house servants, with Johnson.

Sean Powell as Britt Craig, the ever-present news hound, is energetic and bouncy, with avid moves and demeanor.

Carly Grissom does superb work as the young victim, Mary Phagan; and Ken Griggs is fine as the Old Confederate Soldier and Governor Slaton. Bill Saunders is excellent as Officer Starnes and Tom Watson, and Jason Sharp is commanding as ambitious DA, Hugh Dorsey.

David Bartlett also manages two roles very well, and Joshua Tyler Parrot struts his stuff well as the Young Confederate Soldier and Frankie Epps and a prison guard. The rest of the cast — Austene Grey, Lydia Tart, Mary Katherine Fuller, Maigan Kennedy, and David McClutchey are all worthy of note in their performances.

Music director Julie Bradley leads a quintet of accomplished musicians whose presence is heard and not seen. They are wonderful.

Costumer LeGrande Smith has attired this cast very appropriately spanning 1862 to 1914.

Theatre Raleigh has presented many fine shows over the years, and this ranks among the very best shows they’ve done. It is a great way to spend a Hot Summer Night.

SECOND OPINION: July 11th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter:; and July 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks:

Theatre Raleigh presents PARADE at 8 p.m. July 11, 2 and 8 p.m. July 12, 3 p.m. July 13, 8 p.m. July 16-18, 2 and 8 p.m. July 19, 3 p.m. July 20, 8 p.m. July 23-25, 2 and 8 p.m. July 26, and 3 p.m. July 27 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $27 ($25 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-480-5166.

SHOW: and