2000-09-14
The Denver Post
Sandra C. Dillard

Note to potential "Parade" patrons: Don’t be put off by the forbidding phrase, "a musical about a lynching." This rich, tuneful, moving, dramatic and often very funny musical is much, much more than that.
True, the show written by Alfred Uhry and directed by Hal Prince was inspired by the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, the Jewish supervisor of a pencil factory in Atlanta, who in 1913 was tried and convicted of the murder of one of his employees, 13-yearold Mary Phagan.

But "Parade" is a tale as American as "Ragtime," and boasts a superb score, an involving story, and fabulous performances. Despite the stark-branched tree that looms over the stage and seems to grow as the action progresses, the lynching scene is just a tiny part of the whole.

Far more important is the story of Leo and Lucille Frank, whose arranged marriage grows in to a genuine lasting, passionate love as they begin to truly know one another after Leo’s imprisonment.

Leo is wonderfully played by David Pittu, who first appears as a cold, anal-retentive man in glinting spectacles and headto-toe black, who hates Atlanta and longs to return to Brooklyn. To Leo (who sings "How Can I Call This Place Home”), the South is a foreign country where, as he notes, he doesn’t fit in; he doesn’t swear or drawl, and even the Jews "are not like Jews." Pittu has a commanding vocal style, and outdoes himself as an actor in a first-act sequence where in a red-lit, dreamlike sequence he energetically transforms himself into the lewd, lascivious man described by the lying factory girls who have been coached in their false testimony.

Andrea Burns, who is blessed with a soaring, operatic voice, is warmly winning as Lucille, who grows from a pampered housewife, dismissed and disregarded by her husband, to an admirably strong woman, fighting on her husband’s behalf. No longer a mousy Southern flower, she thinks nothing of approaching the Georgia governor, or cleverly diverting a prison guard.

"Parade," also is enriched by exceptional supporting work. Randy Redd almost stops the show with his bluesy, boozy turn ( "Big News”) as a frustrated young reporter longing to escape trivial assignments and finally get a big, career-making story. In his reporter role, Redd also serves admirably as "Parade’s" narrator.

Also making a big impact is Keith Byron Kirk as the cocky, lying, black ex-convict, Jim Conley. Kirk is mesmerizing both in a key courtroom scene and in a dramatically orange-lit chain-gang segment where he speaks boldly to the governor while at the same time leading the hard-working chaingang’s call and response ( "Blues: Feel the Rain Fall.”)

Peter Samuel is commanding as the ambitious prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey, while John Leslie Wolfe gliding silently in undertaker black and popping up almost unexpectedly, is chilling as the fanatic, racist newspaper publisher, Tom Watson.

Prince moves his large cast about with fluid ease. The Confederate Memorial Day parade scenes — marked by a one-legged white-haired Civil War veteran waving from a float, huge Confederate flags, brass instruments and a twirling baton — are particularly effective, as are the courtroom scenes with an imaginative, paper cut-out jury.

There were a few opening-night problems, notably involving sound, but ultimately "Parade" is a thoroughly satisfying theatrical experience.


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