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In the tradition of unlikely subjects for B’way musicals add the name “Parade”: a show about the frame-up and lynching death of a young Jewish man living in the south at the turn of the century. At first glance it seems an impossible artistic hurdle even with an all-star creative team. But the show’s second half makes a powerfully persuasive case for itself. And by play’s end I was hooked.
The first half of Parade is a lengthy set-up. It basically amounts to a by-the-numbers series of scenes depicting the protagonist Leo Frank, a fastidious young Brooklyn Jew living uncomfortably in Georgia with his southern wife. As the superintendent of a pencil factory the locals don’t much care for him either. And one day when a 13-year-old girl who works for him is found murdered in the factory basement, Frank becomes a convenient suspect.
In a predictable set of courtroom scenes that follow, we see how the wheels of justice become derailed and our protagonist is railroaded into a conviction and death sentence.
But then comes act two and the show comes alive. Frank’s stale marriage is sparked by the tragic events and suddenly the show develops the power, the emotion, even the suspense it was previously lacking.
Director Hal Prince is clearly at the top of his form. The work is immaculate…with every move clearly thought through. And there are inspired moments as well. It is nothing short of inspired.
Musically, you won’t be humming tunes out the theater, but you’ll find the complex score by B’way newcomer Jason Robert Browns yields rewards that go far deeper than catchy melodies.
The performers all shine even if their roles are not al that dimensional. Brent Carver as Leo Frank has perhaps the toughest job making the unsympathetic wimp into a hero…but he does manage beautifully, breaking our hearts even when the fateful moment comes.
Playwright Alfred Uhry has a family connection to the Franks, and his dedication to the work clearly shows. “Parade” is not the best musical out there. Its tragic subject may be its own worst enemy. On the other hand, seeing what a collection of masters can do with such a downer of a subject provides us with a theatrical high.
You ultimately leave the theater feeling moved, haunted and inspired.