The Denver Post
Sandra C. Dillard

Legendary director Hal Prince insists the musical "Parade" is not about a lynching.

The show is by award-winning playwright Alfred Uhry, whose works include "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." Directed by Prince, it’s based on the story of Leo Frank, the Jewish supervisor of a pencil factory in Atlanta, who in 1913 was tried and convicted for the murder of one of his employees, 13-year-old Mary Phagan.

The case stirred great passions and a swell of anti-Semitism. In 1915, shortly after Frank’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, he was hauled out of a Georgia jail by an angry mob and lynched. (The Georgia Board of Pardons granted Frank a posthumous pardon March 11, 1986.) "But "Parade’ is not about a lynching," said Prince, who along with directing also is co-conceiver of the musical. "The lynching is an event in it, but most of what it’s about is two people who get married. And they’re both good, decent people who will probably go on being polite to each other, and having a family, but never really knowing and loving each other.

"What happens is an event enters their lives, a traumatizing event, and they change. They become different. They are people finding out who they really are, and falling in love," said Prince, interviewed by telephone from his New York office.

"Parade" opens Tuesday at the Buell Theatre on national tour and runs through Sept. 24, presented by Denver Center Attractions.

David Pittu, who most recently appeared in the national tour of "Titanic," stars as Leo. Lucille, Frank’s wife, is played by Andrea Burns, who recently completed a successful run in the New York premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s "Saturday Night." Leo and Lucille Frank were brought together in an arranged marriage, and not until after his arrest and imprisonment was the chilly Leo finally able to express his feelings. For her part, Lucille becomes a proud, assertive woman and her husband’s most effective defender.

"I said to the actor playing the Leo Frank role, "This is a man in prison, (and) in the prison of his own personality, with his fears and his inability to connect. He becomes free in prison,’- " Prince said. Co-creator Uhry won the Pulitzer Prize for "Driving Miss Daisy," and later an Oscar when the play was made into a movie. He won the Tony Award for his drama "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." Both plays are in set in the Atlanta area, as is "Parade." (Uhry, who is Jewish, grew up in Atlanta and knew Lucille Frank, who was a friend of his grandmother’s.)

Also in the cast is Rick Hilsabeck, best known to audiences for his portrayal of The Phantom in the national touring company of "The Phantom of the Opera" (including the Denver engagement in the winter of 97). Hilsabeck, who lives in Colorado with his actress wife, is playing Gov. Slaton.

Peter Samuels, who starred as Eliot Ness in the the Denver Center Theatre Company world premiere of the musical, "Eliot Ness in Cleveland," is appearing in "Parade" as Hugh Dorsey.

"Parade," which won the 1999 Tony Award for best book of a musical and best original score, didn’t fare well on Broadway, despite the collaboration of Uhry and Prince, who helmed "The Phantom of the Opera," "Show Boat," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Cabaret," "Evita" and many others.

"Parade" opened in late December 1998 and closed in February 1999, well before the June 1999 Tony awards.

"It did not get a long run," Prince said, "but it also was a victim of a really public bankruptcy by Livent, (the producing company) when they bellied up and defaulted on a good deal of production (tasks such as plans and advertising).

"I’ve done a lot of shows as serious as this," Prince said. "You have to nurse them. Also, it’s very hard for a show that isn’t around to win Tonys.

"I just think it’s a wonderful show. It’s not like I’m talking about a show that doesn’t work. I’m very happy with this show. It’s been reworked. We’ve been rehearsing all these weeks." Prince also said he’s had a chance to rethink some aspects of the show.

"I looked and saw a second-act opener that none of us realized (before) was a second-act opener, so we moved it. We also trimmed 12 minutes." There are still disagreements over whether or not Frank was guilty, and the issue probably will never be resolved.

"But the purpose of "Parade’ is not to revisit a crime scene, but to musicalize the story of two human beings who are caught up in a traumatic situation and are the better for it," Prince said. "Most people have shocks and surprises in their lives, and how you deal with those crises is ultimately the story of who you are.

"I leave "Parade’ feeling exhilarated.”