The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Alice T. Carter

There’s a sort of bittersweet symmetry in the idea that a musical about a man who was denied justice was also unjustly treated.

A touring production of "Parade" arrives in town Tuesday night to close the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s 2000 season.

It’s a dark but compelling story about Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Atlanta in 1913 who was falsely accused of murdering a young girl who worked in his factory. Railroaded through a trial on largely circumstantial evidence, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang. When the governor commuted his death sentence to life in prison, an enraged mob of vigilantes dragged him from prison in the middle of the night and lynched him.

Alfred Uhry’s script won the 1999 Tony for best book of a musical and Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics took home that season’s Tony for best original score.

Those awards were a poignant triumph for the show’s creative team, which included its co-conceiver and director, Harold Prince, and choreographer Patricia Birch.

"Parade" already had been closed for months, after only 85 performances, a fact many saw as an additional casualty of the imploding financial empire of producer Garth Drabinsky and the Canadian production company Livent. There also was a round of negative reviews.

"We had such a terrible time with the Livent disaster," Prince says. "Our producers went bankrupt on the front page of the New York Times. … They defaulted on many of their debts. They left Lincoln Center (who would have moved the show to another theater) holding the bag. They didn’t pay their share of the advertising.

"It was a show I really love that got mistreated," Prince says. "I said when the show closed, we will see this show again. We will see this show in New York again … and it will have a life. I know that about shows. I’ve had shows that had rocky initial lives, including `West Side Story.’ ”

Five months later, when Uhry accepted the Tony for best book, he held his award aloft and, taking a line out of his play, vowed "This is not over yet."

Meanwhile, down in Atlanta, Christopher Manos, producer of the Theatre of the Stars, was breathing a sigh of relief because the show had not won the season’s Tony for best musical.

If that had happened, he knew some other, more powerful producer would have been interested in optioning it for a national tour.

He had seen it in Manhattan before it closed and thought it was a natural project for his theater. Manos immediately began to put together a plan to revive "Parade" and send it out as a touring production.

"I went to the creative team and they were thrilled," he recalls. "We’re having to rethink how to do revivals with nothing new for balance coming out of Broadway."

Prince, Uhry, Brown and Birch not only wanted to let Manos produce it, they were willing to get it in shape with revisions and to work on it in Atlanta under conditions somewhat reduced from what they were used to with Broadway productions.

Manos got busy calling producers he knew, including the Civic Light Opera’s Van Kaplan. In less than 2 weeks he had put together a 16-week, 10-city tour that would allow him to proceed.

Prince re-directed the show to fit on a proscenium stage, moved a musical number, and cut 12 minutes out of the production. "That’s always easy to do when you come back to a show," Prince says. "The changes are for the good."

For the new production, Prince hired David Pittu to play Leo Frank and Andrea Burns for the part of Frank’s wife, Lucile. "It’s a new company, a younger company in years… that gives it more buoyancy, no question," Prince says. "But then I’ve given it more buoyancy … the whole thing bubbles more. There’s oh-so-much more laughter than there was at Lincoln Center. … It’s very funny now when you want it to be, and then the web tightens."

When the revised "Parade" opened in Atlanta in June, audiences gave it a standing ovation despite the story being a touchy subject for many longtime residents.

And why not, Manos says.

"It has a beautiful score, one of the finest of recent times by a big new person, and the quintessential director, Harold Prince, who was here all the time. It’s the continuation of that viewing of serioso-type themes in musical theater form rather than going to opera."

Manos says the show has been doing about as well at the box office as he and presenters in other cities predicted. "It probably did better than I expected."

But money isn’t what matters most to Manos. "This is what we’re here for: to do work we think is important and get it out there where people will see it."