2000-08-03
The Minneapolis Star Tribune
Rohan Preston

Opening-night glitches with the sound were the least of the problems afflicting the Broadway musical "Parade," which rolled into St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday.

A story about a Georgia lynching, the show, which won 1999 Tony Awards for best book and best musical score, is a lazy paint-by-stereotypes affair full of shallow and unengaging characterizations.

That the show is such a mess is surprising, given the celebrated team that created it: Tony-, Oscar-and Pulitzer Prize-winning book writer Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy"), director Harold Prince and composer Jason Robert Brown, who also conducts at the Ordway.

They based "Parade" on a heartrending true story. Leo Frank, a Jew from Brooklyn who managed a family-owned pencil factory in Atlanta just before World War I, was accused of killing 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan.

He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The governor of Georgia commuted his sentence after an investigation pointed to rigged evidence, but when Frank was released from jail he was lynched.

The show’s creators should be commended for pursuing a substantive human drama in an era when musicals are often about such spectacles as helicopter landings or slinky human felines. But they have failed to find the human heart of the story.

At the outset, Frank feels alienated among the mob celebrating Confederate Memorial Day, and his perspective never changes. Only his wife, Lucille, played with sincerity and strength by Andrea Burns, goes on an emotional journey.

Where history might provide nuance, depth or doubt, "Parade" is one-sided and sure: of Frank’s innocence (he’s likened to Christ) and of the unworthiness of all the dirty characters assembled against him.

They include a newspaper reporter who is an unrepentant drunk (the first time we see him he’s being hurled out of a tavern); the sinister publisher of a newspaper who pulls the governor’s strings; the coached witnesses who "sing" their orchestrated testimony; the incompetent defense lawyer, and the black ingrates who work at the factory — one an escaped convict and the other a shifty, shuffling broom-pusher.

Who might the true guilty party be? "Parade" suggests it might be the convict.

There are plenty of gripping stories to be told about lynchings, human relations and the trials that people endure in order to live and love in America. "Parade," a bag of reeking cliches, isn’t one of them.


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