Parade is a musical with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Alfred Uhry. Although the original Broadway production had a short-lived run. the show is now often remembered as a powerful story of Southern pride and anti-Semitism. This is a challenging show to perform, especially by high schoolers. This production was performed by the TYA Profesional Training Program at the Drama Learning Center in Columbia, MD.
Based on a true story, Parade takes place in the early 20th century and tells the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish-American from Brooklyn, now living in Atlanta where he runs the local pencil factory. One day, the body of a 13-year old girl is discovered in the basement and Frank is immediately pegged as the main suspect. Though Leo proclaims his innocence, the racial tensions in the South and media sensationalism of the trial lead to a guilty verdict and his eventual lynching.
Historians generally believe in hindsight that Leo Frank most likely did not commit the murder and that the trial was fueled by the South’s long going racial tensions. Brown and Uhry both took this route with their score and book. Both men won Tony Awards for their work on Parade and there is a reason for it. This is an extremely powerful piece of theatre. Parade is grim, angry, and frightening in many ways.
That’s not to suggest that there aren’t moments of levity. One of my favorite numbers in the show is performed by Jim Conley, the African-American janitor of the pencil factory, while giving his testimony (historians believe that Conley, not Frank, was the one who committed the murder). Patrick Campbell plays Conley. His nice voice and energy shined in this number, which resembles an upbeat, call and response gospel song. Jason Quackenbush plays Britt Craig, a reporter covering the Frank trial, and has a lot of fun with his cakewalk number in Act One.
As I said, this is a difficult show to perform in. It requires a lot of emotional heft from the two leads: Leo Frank and his wife Lucille. Tommy Eyes plays Leo as tense and reserved. His standoffish behavior is what ignites this witch hunt against him. Eyes had a nice grasp on Frank’s tension and aloofness and sang quite well. As Lucille Frank, Lauren Alberg has probably the most difficult role in the show. Lucille goes through great lengths to defend her husband’s name and much emotional turmoil as the show goes on. Alberg, too, has a lovely singing voice. Leo and Lucille share two duets in Act Two (“This Is Not Over Yet” and “All the Wasted Time”) and both actors sang the score together quite beautifully.
Director Stephanie Lynn Williams and Music Director Tiffany Underwood Holmes worked hard with this young group of actors to portray this dark story. It sure could not have been easy, for Jason Robert Brown’s score is not easy to sing, but they’ve managed to piece it all together.
David M. Smith provided the innovative set design. Bush Greenbeck and David Smith provided the Lighting Design, Lynn Joslin designed the costumes, and Dustin Merrell provided the sound. All of these fine designers’ work helped to convey the emotions of the story.
Drama Learning Center has an intimate space and they do not use microphones. At my performance, there were times when I couldn’t hear some of the actors, but the effort from the young and talented cast was commendable and admirable.
The title, Parade, refers to the annual Confederate Memorial Day Parade in Atlanta, which begins the show and ends the show. As you might think, the sense of Southern pride surrounds the citizens. This musical is not a jolly celebration, as the title might suggest. It takes no prisoners and challenges the audience with its themes.
For a challenging piece of theatre, check out Drama Learning Center’s moving and powerful production of Parade.