The Green Bay Press Gazette
Warren Gerds

"Parade" is a powerful musical. It’s a full-blooded piece of history, murder, mystery, hatred, lying, bigotry and, in the end, love discovered.

The show chronicles an infamous real-life case that started 87 years ago during the Confederate Memorial Day parade (thus the title) in Marietta, Ga., near Atlanta. Mary Phagan, 13, was found dead in a pencil factory, and her Jewish boss, Leo Frank, eventually paid the full measure for the crime that this show says he did not commit.

"Parade" succeeds on stage, first because good drama is good drama. Add vibrant music and the emotional impact of the human voice (often stunning here), and the power is heightened.

"Parade" is playing an eight-performance run at the Weidner Center on an, at this point, limited tour of nine cities. On opening night Tuesday, the show earned a rousing, whoop-filled standing ovation — a feat for a piece that’s as heavy as it is.

Conducting is Jason Robert Brown, who won the 1999 Broadway Tony Award for best original score for his music and lyrics for "Parade." Brown’s presence lifts the performance level: Wouldn’t you want to sing your best for the composer?

"Parade" is something of a personal mission for co-creators, author Alfred Uhry and famous director Harold Prince. The earnestness shows in the production.

David Pittu and Andrea Burns are dynamic as the fateful Leo and Lucille Frank. Pittu is an actor-singer of precision, and Burns pours feeling into every song with her rich voice.

The high-octane cast includes such dynamos as Keith Byron Kirk as Leo Frank’s accuser, Randy Redd as a hard-boiled newspaperman and John Leslie Wolfe as the self-righteous newspaper publisher.

The opening "The Old Red Hills of Home," sung by Jeff Edgerton as a Confederate soldier, gets the show off in a stunning way. Sensational songs include "Big News!," which Redd makes explode with cynicism, and "That’s What He Said," with Kirk a flashy bolt of excitement on the witness stand.

Time and again, Pittu expresses Frank’s angst. In "Come Up to My Office," he strikingly becomes a leering lecher others envision him being. Pittu and Burns deliver pretty moments, too, notably in the tender "All the Wasted Time."

The tree on which Frank is lynched (that’s not giving anything away; it’s history) is present throughout the show. It’s a symbol of evil and injustice, but the image is so unrelenting it’s like clubbing the audience over the head.

Mostly, "Parade" is like a sit-down with an intriguing book, full of the multiple, complex shadings of humankind. It’s intriguing.