Parade sounds like the title of a festive romp, but make no mistake. The only parade that takes place in the stirring production of the musical now at Writers Theatre in Glencoe is a procession of bigotry of the ugliest sort. That great beauty emerges from the ugliness is a tribute to all involved.
Parade ran for only a few months on Broadway but earned 1998 Tony Awards for its creators: Best Book for Alfred Uhry, already an Oscar winner for adapting his play Driving Miss Daisy, and Best Original Score for the music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. But the national tour of Parade never made it to Chicago, and aside from a few non-Equity productions, Chicagoans have had little opportunity to see this important work until now, so mark your calendars. Parade ends July 2, and the stellar production at Writers Theatre is not to be missed.
Why are sightings of Parade so rare? Brown acknowledged that “it was a musical about a terrible, terrible event . . . a very sad piece of work.” Parade tells the true story of Leo Frank, who was the manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1913, when a 13-year-old factory worker, Mary Phagan, was murdered. Despite the complete lack of evidence pointing to Frank, he was tried and convicted of Phagan’s murder and sentenced to death. Georgia’s then governor commuted Frank’s sentence to life — and by 1986 the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles posthumously issued a full pardon — but even the governor’s mercy did not save Frank from the mob that abducted him from his cell and lynched him.
What stoked the anger of the mob? In 1913, the South was still reeling from the social and economic aftermath of the Civil War — an atmosphere crystallized in the haunting drumming that opens the show. Frank was an outsider from New York City, educated at Cornell University and, most significantly in a time of growing antisemitism, a Jew. After his trial, some 3,000 Jews fled Georgia, while the KKK grew. Somber material for a musical, but a subject that grabbed the attention of Broadway producer Harold Prince, who co-conceived Parade.
Director Gary Griffin brings a keen eye to the work and draws out the best in an extremely talented cast. Patrick Andrews acts and sings the part of Leo Frank with intelligence and passion. Equally pivotal is the role of Frank’s wife Lucille, beautifully portrayed and sung by Brianna Borger — Parade addresses the of intricacies of personal relationships as adroitly as it addresses the complexities of society. Jonathan Butler-Duplessis nearly steals the show as Jim Conley, the janitor turned false witness against Frank by prosecuting attorney and future Georgia governor Hugh Dorsey, cunningly portrayed by Kevin Gudahl. Derek Hasenstab and McKinley Carter deliver layered performances as the governor and his wife. All the singing is first-rate, highlighting the paradoxical beauty coaxed out of the ugliest of events.
Photos: Michael Brosilow
Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe
Through July 2, 2017
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Tickets $35–$80 at Writers Theatre or (847) 242-6000