2000-06-23
The Dallas Morning News
Lawson Taitte

Andrea Burns had a special relationship with "Parade" from the very beginning. Composer Jason Robert Brown and she were childhood friends, and she starred in his first New York revue, "Songs for a New World." The night that show closed, Mr. Brown played for her and the other cast members the first number he had written for his new project.

"I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know what it means, but it sounds great!’ ” Ms. Burns recalls. "He would play parts of it for me from time to time, and I attended the first public dress rehearsal.”

Meanwhile Ms. Burns’ career was progressing along its own lines. She played Belle in the New York company of "Beauty and the Beast" and starred in the Dallas Summer Musicals’ touring version of "Oklahoma!" two years ago. This season she created the lead role in the first New York production of Stephen Sondheim’s rediscovered early piece, "Saturday Night. "

"Parade" wound up on Broadway 18 months ago, winning the Tony Award for best book and score of a musical. Carolee Carmello nabbed a Tony for the leading female role, Lucille Frank. Partly because of the disintegration of the production company, Livent, the show had only a short New York run. But people believed in it so strongly that it is being completely remounted for a tour that comes to Dallas on Tuesday. And this time Ms. Burns plays Lucille.

"Of course, you can imagine what it feels like standing onstage singing it now,” she says.

"Parade" tells a harrowing real-life story in a moving, very human way. Leo Frank, a young Jewish factory manager in 1913 Atlanta (played by David Pittu, who starred in David Mamet’s film "The Spanish Prisoner"), is accused of raping and murdering one of his workers. At first, his wife, Lucille, doesn’t quite know what to make of the charges. It was virtually an arranged marriage, and she doesn’t really understand her husband. Eventually, though, she leads the efforts to have him exonerated.

"This is also a love story, no question about it,” the show’s renowned director, Harold Prince, says.

Ms. Burns’ role is challenging, both dramatically and musically.

"Even though this happened to her when she was a young woman, she grows up into a very strong adult,” Ms. Burns says. "And the great thing about Jason’s music is that it combines folk, pop and blues sounds, but you have got to be legitimately trained to sing it.”

Mr. Brown himself is, most unusually, conducting the tour orchestra.

"Who can blame him? When you put your heart into something like this, you want to be involved in it,” Ms. Burns says. "And believe me, the cast is aware of him. You’re not going to slack off when the composer is standing right there in front of you.”


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