A Conversation with
Alfred Uhry and
Jason Robert Brown
January 27, 1999 - Platform #8
Lincoln Center Theater's Platform series presents conversations with artists working at LCT before an audience of interested theatergoers. Admission is free and open to all. Platforms are held in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. The following is a transcript, edited for clarity, of the January 27, 1999 Platform with Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown:
THOMAS COTT: My name is Thomas Cott from Lincoln Center Theater, and I want to welcome you tonight to the last in our winter series of Platform events. Tonight, we have with us Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, the creators of Parade. [applause]
For those of you who have not been here before, we started the Platform series last summer as a way to introduce our audience to some of the artists working behind the scenes. We've had most recently: Hal Prince, the director of Parade; A.R. Gurney, the author of Far East, our play downstairs at the Newhouse; James McMullan, who does many of our theater posters; and over the summer, we had some of the artists working on Twelfth Night and A New Brain.
Transcripts of the Platforms are available in published form at our lobby shop. Also, if you have access to the Internet, the transcripts are available online at our website, "www.lct.org". The Platforms are funded by a generous grant from the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation and we're grateful to them for their support.
Now, a few introductory words about our guests. I'm sure you're all familiar with their credits, but first...can I see a show of hands: how many people have seen Parade already? [almost everyone in the audience raises their hands].
ALFRED UHRY: Yeah!
JASON ROBERT BROWN: Yay!
TC: Wonderful. So I don't need to tell you too much about their careers, since you've seen their bios in the Playbill. But, for those of you not familiar with them, Jason Robert Brown is making his Broadway debut with Parade. His show Songs for a New World was at the WPA Theater a few years ago, and the cast recording is available at our shop and a record store near you. And Alfred Uhry is the author of many shows, but he is probably best known to you for Driving Miss Daisy, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar. Most recently, he won the Tony for his play The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry! [applause]
We'll be taking questions from the audience, so please start thinking about what you'd like to ask. But I'm going to start us off with some questions. Jason was here a couple weeks ago by himself and I've already asked a lot of questions of him, so I'm going to start with Alfred, and then we can talk about the collaboration between the two of them. Alfred, I think not everyone knows that you got your start in the musical theater...
AU: Oh, yeah.
TC: ...and wrote many shows, both as book-writer and lyricist. I was wondering if you would talk about how you got started and how you came to New York, since you were from the South, originally.
AU: I came to New York after I graduated from Brown, to be the next Oscar Hammerstein or the next Alan Jay Lerner, or someone like that. Luckily, about a year after I got here, I met Frank Loesser, who as most of you know is probably the greatest, for my money, greatest theater composer until Jason came along.
Anyway, I worked with Frank — he had a publishing company, and I worked for him for three or four years, and the best part of it was... I got $50 a week as an advance, and I also got master lessons from Frank. I would write, and I learned a lot. I was being a lyric writer then, but the end result of what I learned has applied to everything I've ever written. Frank believed in clarity, he believed in purity, he believed in 'say it as simply as you can, and don't go in for elaborating.' And I've tried to follow that for years.
TC: What was the first show that you wrote?
AU: I'm the only person you're probably ever going to meet, I think, that's had two shows on Broadway that closed in one night. [laughter]
TC: Well, there's a distinction!
AU: There's a distinction. And the first one was a show based on East of Eden. This was not my idea.
TC: Based on the John Steinbeck novel...?
AU: John Steinbeck novel, Jimmy Dean movie, lyrics by me, music by Robert Waldman, book by Terrence McNally.
TC: How could you miss?
AU: We missed. [laughter] That was my first, that was one night. I had a good one pretty early on, I had The Robber Bridegroom, which got me a Tony nomination. It was really kind of funny, because it was the same year as A Chorus Line, so I knew I wasn't going to win anything. But it was fun. The Robber Bridegroom was kind of a success. To this day, it's done a lot.
And then I went to the Goodspeed Opera House with my friend and Lincoln Center regular Gerald Gutierrez. We did a show called Little Johnny Jones... George M. Cohan... I rewrote the book. That one actually played a long time until it got to New York. That was another one-night wonder. After that, I got out of musical theater and wrote Miss Daisy, and…
TC: Let's talk a little bit about how you got to that. Did you say, 'I'm fed up with musicals, and…'
AU: Well, I was doing a show – this one was with John Weidman, who has also worked here at LCT, about Al Capone. And I really didn't care one way or the other about Al Capone, in fact. It was a job. Most people in the theater, like me certainly, then, would have taken any job they could've had.
And one day – this was in Coconut Grove, in Miami. I was shaving. And most guys, when you shave, you don't really look at yourself, you just kind of do it. But all of a sudden I looked at myself in the mirror, with my face full of soap, and I said, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' I really said that to this soaped-up person in the mirror. I didn't want to do it any more.
TC: Did you say, 'I want to stay in the theater, so what else can I do?'
AU: No, I was teaching school. I had four kids, and I was trying to make a living of some sort. And I was teaching school part-time, and I thought, 'Well, I'll just go teach school full-time.' But meantime, I had an idea – I had never written a play, but I had an idea for a play, a little bitty play about my grandmother and her chauffeur, and I wrote it, and my life changed, and now I'm back in musicals again!
TC: I know a little secret about that play.
AU: Ooh! There are several. [laughter]
TC: Well, the one I was told by André Bishop tonight before I came here was that no one wanted to be in the play.
AU: Dana Ivey wanted to be in it...
TC: Right. Dana Ivey wanted to be in it, but some people thought she was too young for the role. My favorite story was that Nancy Marchand was a candidate but…
AU: She turned it down.
TC: …and wasn't she was thought to be too tall to appear in the small upstairs theater at Playwrights Horizons, which has a low ceiling?
AU: And nobody wanted to play the chauffeur. Nobody. And the director, Ron Lagomarsino, had worked with Morgan Freeman, who was not well-known at the time, he was in some soap opera. Ron said, 'This guy can do it.' And I had never seen Morgan in my life, but I said, 'Okay, somebody's got to do it.' And then I went to see – Morgan had made one movie called "Street Smart". I don't know if any of you ever saw it. He played this fearsome pimp…
TC: With Christopher Reeve, right?
AU: … and he had this scene with the scissors. I said, 'Oh my God, who have I got in this show?' [laughter] Then, from the very first reading he was the character, and he became a big star, and the show ran for three years. I thought you would tell the other dirty little secret that we had.
TC: Oh, please go ahead!
AU: We were on 42nd Street for three and a half years, and just up the block most of the time was a porno movie called "Eating Miss Daisy" [laughter], that I would have been glad to go to see, but I was afraid that somebody would see me coming in or out. [laughter continues]
TC: "Seen about town, Alfred Uhry." [laughter] Well, obviously your play went on to be a huge success. I know it's still produced all over the place, and the movie was a tremendous hit. Was that the first movie that you were involved with?
AU: No, "Mystic Pizza" was the first.
TC: Which I loved.
AU: Thanks. It was Julia Roberts' second movie. Made her a star. I'm a star-maker.
TC: Not so bad. And you have a number of movie projects coming up. Does that mean you are abandoning the theater?
AU: No, no, no.
TC: [laughing] How's that for a leading question?
AU: If you work in the theater and you're lucky enough to be called upon to write movies, it's a good idea, because they support you. Because the theater certainly doesn't. So you have to, you have to do something if you're going to write in theater. I imagine Neil Simon, or somebody like that, doesn't, but I can't think of any people – maybe Pete Gurney. But most of us have to do something else too. Because it's just too haphazard. You get the show that runs a little bit, and then you don't, and you can't make a living.
TC: So did you ever expect yourself to get back into the musical world, was that an ambition of yours, to just kind of come back, or was that just sort of a…
AU: I was asked. And I didn't find anything that I wanted to do. And then Hal Prince asked me to write a show about Sammy Davis Jr., which I didn't want to do. And the more I didn't want to do it, the more they wanted me to do it. And I said, 'Hal, I don't really, I don't think that two Jewish boys like you and me ought to write a show about somebody who's sort of an oreo in the first place.' And he said 'What's an oreo?' And I said, 'Well you certainly shouldn't be doing it!' [laughter]
Then, I was talking to him about Ballyhoo. And he said, 'I wonder why those Atlanta Jews were so desperately assimilating?' And I said, 'Well, probably because of Leo Frank.' He said, 'I know about Leo Frank, sort of. Tell me the story.' And I did. And he jumped up out of his chair, literally, with his glasses on top of his head, and he said, 'This is the musical I have been looking for. This is the musical I want to do.' And that was – what, Jason, six years ago, seven years ago?
JRB: Well, that was long before I was involved…
AU: Long before Jason was born. [laughter] And we got on it, and…
JRB: What's great is that you and Hal both tell entirely different versions of that story. I wish I had been there, so I could tell a third new version.
AU: What does he tell?
JRB: He tells that you came into the office saying, 'I've got a great idea for a musical! I'm going to write about Leo Frank.'
AU: Well at any rate, Hal's a born liar. [laughter]
JRB: You're both big liars!
TC: You should write a musical about this!
AU: My memory is that he thought of it as a musical, and I immediately saw the possibilities, and we were lucky enough about a year later to get Jason in here… As you know, Jason is younger than my kids, although that never bothered either me or Jason for a second.
JRB: I think it bothered your kids, actually. [laughter]
AU: It probably did, but it doesn't now. I think it's the best collaboration I've ever had in my life. Because it was exciting all the time. And I think it was a third and a third and a third. [to JRB] Don't you? Hal didn't write anything, but he pushed it. He said, 'Nah, yeah, no, yeah.' It was great. Great. And exciting. Working with Hal is – everybody that works in theater should have somebody like Hal behind them, because he's like this huge megawatt lightbulb. It's so satisfying to write something he gets excited about. He's very honest.
TC: Let's talk a little bit about the beginnings of your collaboration. Jason told us a couple weeks ago the story of when you first met, and you told the bare bones of the story to him and gave him some research, and he went off and wrote a song, right?
AU: Did you say how long it took?
JRB: A bad song. Yeah.
AU: Oh, that song!
TC: A day or two.
AU: Yeah, but then – well, we talked for months!
JRB: I only wrote that first song as an audition, to just tell everyone that I knew what I was doing, which, in fact, I didn't. But nonetheless… I went up to Connecticut. Alfred has a beautiful farm up there, so I took any excuse to go up there. And we went and talked there, and I didn't write anything, and we kept talking and I didn't write anything, and we kept talking and then it was March.
You can see the calendar pages flying off, and I didn't write anything, and finally I wrote 'The Old Red Hills of Home.' And I remember Alfred coming over to the house, and I only had the first part, I didn't even have the second part of it yet. I had the Young Soldier section, and I played it for him, and he sat there in my living room and started crying. And I thought, 'Good Lord, what have I done? It's not that bad.' [laughter]
AU: I really was moved to tears by it, and still am. Because to my knowledge, Jason's never been in the state of Georgia in his life. And I told him when I started this, that I didn't want this to be some sort of noble thing about this Jewish man who was brought down by vicious rednecks, because I didn't see it that way. Because I'm Southern, and I know that those people suffered. I know that they were defeated. I know that their lives were ruined, and they had believed in that cause with all their heart and soul, and that they lost. And not only did they lose, they went home, they lost their farms. They had been moved to town, and they had to put their little kids to work. It was a hard thing.
And I told him some things about the South, he read some things about the South, and then he wrote that amazing song. And I called Hal and said, 'Sign him.' And after that, we mostly – it just sort of felt its own way through. We would talk about what we were going to do, and I would write scenes and monologues, and he would turn most of it into songs, which was fine with me. It just kind of felt its way through. We never had an argument. Really, we never did.
JRB: The only things we ever fought about were, Hal would say, 'I wanted scene 5 two weeks ago,' and I would say, 'Oh, it's Alfred's fault.' And Alfred would say, 'How could you say that? Obviously we were waiting for you to write the song.' And I'd say, 'Well, I don't want to admit that I never wrote the song,' and I'd blame it on Alfred.
AU: But as far as anything to do with the work, there was never, never…
JRB: No. Really not.
AU: And it was exciting. And in May of '96, we did a reading in Philadelphia. Of the eight principal actors, six of them are still in the show. We did this reading, and everybodywas falling about, weeping, including us. Exciting.
And we worked on it, and a year later we did another reading. And then, what, three or four months after that we did a six or seven-week workshop ending with three staged reading performances in Toronto. And we worked on it again, and there was about, almost another year?
JRB: It was almost a year.
AU: Before we went into rehearsal again. It was a long haul.
TC: [to AU] You're describing a very long process, something like three and a half years, which…
AU: It was longer! Because…
TC: ...from the first idea...
AU: ...it was two years before May of '96.
JRB: I was brought in…
AU: In '94.
JRB: Yeah, in August of '94. I wrote the first song in March of '95.
AU: So it was long.
TC: How do you sustain the momentum for that long?
AU: Well, that was hard. We did…
JRB: That was really hard, to be honest, between the Philadelphia reading and the one a year later.
AU: It's too long.
JRB: It was really devastating. And you could see it in the next reading we did in New York, after the one in Philadelphia. The energy had drained out of the piece a little bit. And it was because you can get just so nit-picky over a year, and you just kind of lose focus of what it is you're supposed to be working on. So you just start working on everything, and then you're not working on anything.
AU: Well, it's a little bit – I think doing this is a lot like team sports. Athletes automatically know how to gear up for the game, and when it's time to do it. And we were just sitting there running in place for a year. You know, 'Oh, you've got to write it by Thursday,' and we'd look at each other and say, 'Yeah, right. Why Thursday, when we know we're not going for a while?' So…
TC: But why wait a year? Was it just an arbitrary circumstance?
AU: I think it was something to do with Ragtime, but I don't remember what it was.
JRB: Yeah, it always had to do with some other – every delay we had was about Garth [Drabinsky] in some way or another.
AU: It was Garth, yeah. Oh – we were taken up by Livent. Do you all know about Livent? [audience murmurs in assent] All right, all right. We were taken up by Livent, because Hal had a whole history with them. When we first finished the show, Jason and I said – we both remember this: we would love to bring this show to André and Bernie at Lincoln Center Theater.
And Hal said, 'Well, we've got to take it to Garth, because I feel I owe him.' So we did that. And then, after that seemed not to be working out, I made a fortuitous call to André Bishop, who read it and loved it, and thank God, here we are. We got out of there. Yeah, it was too long. After that, the momentum was okay.
TC: After the second reading, there was the workshop, which was pretty soon thereafter.
JRB: I'd say again, the space between the workshop and this production would've been destructive if we'd felt like we had a lot of work to do. What was supposed to happen, we were supposed to do the workshop in Toronto. And then that May, we were supposed to do a production actually in Toronto. We were supposed to do the full production at the Ford Center in Toronto, because Garth had the theater, and he said 'Let's do that.' And for a great number of reasons it didn't happen, all of which are…
AU: Good reasons.
JRB: Good reasons. We're all very grateful that it didn't happen. But we were all gearing up for May. We got the show finished, and then May didn't happen. So most of the summer, we just sat, and fixed a couple of lyrics here and there, and Alfred changed some dialogue…
AU: We changed some stuff, but then…
JRB: … it was very small work.
AU: … we did the normal amount of work once we were in rehearsal. There were no new songs, but…
JRB: I wouldn't say we did the normal – I mean, for any of the musicals I've done since I've been in New York, not that I've written but that I've worked on, as music director or orchestrator or anything like that, the rehearsal process basically involves the composer and lyricist frantically running in every day with a new number, and the choreographer screaming and throwing out all her choreography… And we just had none of that at all.
AU: Just some small rewrites.
JRB: We were really very steady, and rewrote a couple of things here and there…
AU: Well I rewrote, I was doing stuff right up until a week before opening. Little stuff.
JRB: Yeah, it was all little stuff.
AU: It was all little, but…
TC: Well, there was one significant change in the defense lawyer.
AU: Right. That was in previews.
AU: We did that in one day.
TC: Do you want to explain what the difference was?
AU: The defense in the Leo Frank case in actuality was very weak. And I had written a very weak defense lawyer, and then it looked like we had to have some defense. So I kind of made up a defense, and the wonderful actor J.B. Adams was given this thing on Monday, and we put it all in on Tuesday. It was a whole new approach, and it worked. But that was maybe six, seven pages of dialogue. That's all.
TC: And the rest was just tightening. I mean, the script that I saw during the spring, I guess, was…
AU: Pretty much what went on. So here we are. Happily.
TC: Are there any questions from the audience? Sir?
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: It's always fun to have you confront your theater critics, and respond to them. These are people who have done practically nothing creative in theater, who have the audacity to come out all self-confident with criticisms of things…
AU: I love you!
AM #1: I'm thinking of Ben Brantley's review of Parade in The New York Times, where he complained about, I don't know if these were his exact words, but something like 'the cold, uninvolved first part of the show'. Several critics mentioned that their feeling of involvement with the story didn't begin until the end of the second act. It seems to me, possibly, that this distancing or alienation was sort of like a Brechtian effect. Did you intend to employ a sort of Brechtian technique here?
AU: Do you want me to start, Jason?
JRB: Yeah, you start. I'll pick it up.
AU: No, there was no Brechtian intention. We were writing about an alienated, uptight, persnickety man, who was not connected to his feelings at the beginning of the show. And by the second act, he became connected with his feelings. And we were encouraged by Hal to be faithful to the material. And not try to do typical musical comedy kind of things that one does. While we weren't trying to be different for different's sake, we were simply trying to tell the story, I realized that in telling the story the way we've told it, we've written a show that's not like any other show.
When that happens, critics with agendas – in other words, critics who come to the theater and want to see… they say, 'Oh yeah, this is sort of like if you mixed Chicago with Showboat.' Or critics who are particularly fond of English plays, or lesbian-in-trouble plays or whatever you want to call it, will not respond. Because Parade is not like anything else. Not that we intended it to be. It just isn't.
People who come to just see it, like most of the audience – and most critics, by the way…. I got some of the best reviews I've ever gotten in my life for this show, just not from The New York Times, which by the way, have never liked anything I've ever done. The review of Driving Miss Daisy said that – there was a play called Home, written by a man named Samm-Art Williams, that had opened maybe a year before. And the Times said Daisy was like a very diluted version of Home, and was not very good. So I don't ever expect anything good from The New York Times.
But I think that we wrote a show that was peculiar unto itself, and you have to watch it with your heart and your head open to respond to it. And no, there was no attempt to be Brechtian.
JRB: The only response I have to any of the criticism – first of all, I am one of the great Brecht haters of our time, so my intentions were never Brechtian in any particular sense. I find intentionally distancing an audience to be perverse. My response to any of the people who didn't like the show, is that there weren't a lot of very musical critics. And that the emotion to the show is very clearly and deliberately laid out, over and over again, in the music.
In the score, we have the emotion very clearly delineated. And that's why the words are not particularly emotional. Leo Frank was not an emotional person. But I think that, say, the funeral in the first act, or 'The Old Red Hills of Home…'
AU: Pretty emotional.
JRB: … are enormously emotive songs. As is, for example, Leo's testimony at the trial. Incidentally, Ben Brantley wasn't the only person, and I don't even mean critics – we got a lot of people who left the show at the end of the first act and said, 'Ah, it's so cold.' And I thought, 'Well, if you're not ready to take in the music, which is not….' It's not Chicago, it's not Mame, it's a little difficult and it's a little complex, but I think that all those colors really add up to something if you're willing to open yourself up to it.
But the music is where the emotion of the show lies. And if you can't get behind that, then you can't even appreciate the second act, because it all grows from one thing into the next thing. So that was my only answer to that, I thought, 'Gee, I wrote two and a half hours of music and nobody reviewing it seems to be qualified to discuss it much less dismiss it.' The show can't be dismissed on that level, because it was all of a piece. I mean, Alfred and I worked together to make sure that we were communicating everything between each other. It's not just on Alfred to write the emotion, or just on me to write some clever rhymes.
TC: [to the audience] I think all of you are probably here because you do admire the show, at least in some respect, so I'm preaching to the converted here, but there are shows that come along that are different, that are difficult, and sometimes when they're first produced they don't necessarily get the reception they might otherwise get on first hearing. There are some shows…
AU: Hal tells the story of, excuse me, about Fiddler on the Roof. That nine years later, when it was still running, he got out the reviews – which were not as good as the reviews of Parade, nowhere near – and showed them around. Nobody could believe how bad they were.
TC: Yeah, he threw a big party and passed out copies to everybody. As if to say, 'See what they know...' But I think that particularly Jason's score is the kind of score you almost need to hear more than once. Because you get so much out of repeated listening. Over time, I think people will refer back to the show as a real milestone; some critics have already said that is the case. But not every critic can "get it", and that's hard to deal with.
Critics see a lot of shows, and they only get one night's snapshot view. Also, as Alfred said, there are some critics who have predetermined opinions about what they like and what they don't like and can't be swayed no matter what they see. So all you can do is deal with what you get from them.
AU: Luckily for us all in the theater, The New York Times doesn't have the weight it used to have. People now seem to go by word of mouth much more. I don't know whether it's a response to Mr. Brantley, or whatever it is, but I welcome it. I hope he stays a long time, so we can continue to have people just come to see shows that they want to see.
AM #2: Is the story factual, or did you invent some things about it?
AU: It is true. Of course, nobody knows what Leo Frank and his wife said to each other when they were alone. But from reading their letters to each other, we realized that the marriage had been sort of arranged and formal at the beginning. But these two people fell in love with each other in the face of adversity. That's true. It's all true. A lot of the trial stuff is quotes. And the governor's speeches were all actually said.
AM #3: Can you tell us what role Judaism plays in your life, since we can see the role that it plays in your work?
JRB: My answer is easy. My grandfather was Orthodox, and my mother was Conservative, and I guess I'm as close to Reform as you can get without – I don't go to synagogue. But I feel Jewish! I feel like a nice Jewish boy. At the same time, I don't observe. I struggle through the seder like everybody else does, sitting there desperately trying to read the Hebrew, and not embarrass myself in front of my cousin, who reads it much better than I do.
The answer is that it means a lot to me, and I found that out during my marriage. I was married far too briefly to a non-Jewish woman. I realized during that, 'Gee, this means a lot more to me than I thought it did.' So it plays a part in my life. It's just not tangible. I can't quite grab onto it all that well.
AU: [to JRB] Jesus means a lot more than you thought it did to you?
JRB: No. Judaism.
AU: Oh! [laughter]
TC: Is Dr. Freud in the house?
JRB: Jesus does mean a lot more to me than I thought it did! [laughter] For entirely different reasons.
TC: Well, let me ask a follow-up question: Did the writing of this show reawaken some interest in Judaism?
JRB: It didn't reawaken it. It keeps reminding me that I'm lapsed. ...Guilt! But that's what Judaism is good for under the best of circumstances. [laughter] When we did the 'Sh'ma' at the end, I had to do a lot of research. On my end, I did a lot, because as Alfred will tell you, he didn't. So I ended up doing a lot of research on certain Judaic issues. And whenever I would, I'd call up a rabbi, I'd talk to this person or whatever, and I'd always think, 'Gee, you know, I should know this. And I want to know this...' One day I will.
AU: If you know my plays, you know that I'm trying to come to terms with the way I was brought up, which was with Easter egg hunts and Christmas trees and not knowing what a bar-mitzvah was. And I'm still going through those woods. It would be phony of me – everyone thinks now I've sort of found a life, and I'm a good Jew, and… I'm trying. All this stuff helps me. I'm not a very good Jew yet.
AM #4: They never found the killer?
AU: We believe that Jim Conley, the sweeper, killed Mary Phagan. And we suggest that in the show. We don't really know; I think it's about 95% sure.
JRB: In Georgia, they're still willing to debate with you about the fact that Leo Frank killed her. Even the pardon of Leo Frank, when they eventually pardoned him in the '80s, the pardon did not say 'because he was innocent,' they said it was because he didn't have a fair trial.
AU: And he wasn't protected.
JRB: Yeah. So it's certainly a divisive issue. In a certain way, I think, as with presidential stains on dresses, you have to make up your own mind about what happened… [laughter]
AU: Whatever are you referring to?
JRB: So we've made up our minds personally. And I think if you read the evidence closely enough, you'll make up your mind about it the same way that Alfred and I did.
TC: Also, there was a man who came forward as a…
AU: We couldn't do that, but in 1986, a man who had been 14 years old at the time, the office boy in the factory named Alonzo Mann, said, 'I don't want to die with this on my conscience: I saw Jim Conley with Mary Phagan's body. And he said, 'If you tell anybody, I'll kill you.' And I went home and told my mother, and she said, 'Well, don't tell anybody.' And I never did, and I don't want to die with this.'
But even that is inconclusive, because if he was carrying a dead body to the basement, then that would support the prosecution's theory. Because what made everybody believe that Jim Conley was lying was that there was sawdust in that little girl's lungs, and the sawdust was only in the basement. So the only way it could've gotten there is if she was breathing when she was in the basement. Which we touch on in the show. The trouble with a show like this is, there's so much material you've got to cover, and you've only got a little time to do it.
AM #5: Can you talk about the structure of the show, which is framed by the Confederate Memorial Day Parade, at the beginning and the end. Did you start off with that as a conceit, or did that evolve along the way?
AU: Well, the historical fact was that Mary Phagan was killed on the day of the Parade. And Hal ran with that metaphor, and it was a great metaphor. We only tied it – that was one of the last things I wrote, was the very end of the show when Lucille says, 'It's Memorial Day again.' They already had the Parade, but I think what made it work for everybody was to realize that there were three successive Memorial Days in the show. That was a good example of a wonderful collaboration. While Hal didn't write anything, he just kept talking about it. 'This Parade and that Parade and another Parade….' It all came to land right.
AM #6: Was Parade the original title?
TC: No, the original title was…
JRB: Well, Alfred had a great title, which I love to this day: it was 'The Devil and Little Mary,' which I always thought was a great name.
TC: Sounds like a porno movie. [laughter]
AU: That would go with 'Eating Miss Daisy'. [laughter]
JRB: I always liked the title of the book. There was a book that we used sometimes for research called Night Fell on Georgia. But we all kept singing 'Rainy Night in Georgia,' and that wasn't good. And then Hal decided that it should be called 'I Love a Parade.' [laughter] You want to talk about your Brechtian distancing – it drove me insane.
AU: So we got it shortened to Parade.
JRB: And that's how we ended up with the title. But in answer to your question, I think that if you read any of Hal's discussion about the work that he does, he always talks about how he wants an overarching framework, how he wants an overarching concept. And I think that Hal was looking for that through a lot of the period we were working on the show. And I think he always knew that it had something to do with the Parade. So that was in large part his contribution, was to say 'That's the frame and the structure.'
AM #7: A question for Jason Brown. Do you consider your music more in the classical vein, or more in the theatrical vein?
JRB: I think most of us who grew up when I did and loved musical theater, loved it because of the work of Steve Sondheim. I don't want to get too hung up on the Sondheim thing, because I think it makes people put a gun to my head, but I love listening to the work that he did, which is not FM radio. And it's not, 'hey, let's sing along'. It was all very theatrical. It was very indebted and related to the operatic traditions that he came out of. And at the same time, he came from Oklahoma! and Carousel, whereas it didn't have a whole lot to do with Top 40 radio, and it didn't have to do with Casey Kasem. That always seemed to me part of what musical theater writing should be.
And at the same time – and I don't now, but when I was growing up, I loved Andrew Lloyd Webber. I thought he was the greatest thing in the world. I shouldn't say it out loud, but it's true. I thought he was the greatest thing…. When I listen to music at home, I vacillate between listening to rock and roll, and what's playing on the radio, and I also put on Mahler and Bernstein, and I listen to that. I like to be steeped in both traditions. I like knowing a lot, and I like using every possible kind of music.
I think that in this score, there's both things. There is some stuff that's very European, in its traditional sense. But there's a lot more stuff that's also kind of folky and pop. So I think my point is that it's all theater music. That it's music that fits what happens on stage and defines what happens on stage. And that's the only definition that makes any sense to me.
AM #8: After the sentence was changed to life imprisonment, Leo Frank was in jail. I guess I have two questions. How long was he in jail before they pulled him out?
AU: In the minimum security jail, or the regular jail?
TC: Because he was moved.
AM #8: Well, Leo wrote a letter to his lawyer that he's doing all right in jail…
AU: He was there about two months.
JRB: Between the original conviction, and the time it was commuted, he was in jail for over two years. After the sentence was commuted, he was in the prison for, I think, between two and three months.
AM #8: My second question is, after that length of time, they still wanted to kill him?
TC: This case didn't die down.
JRB: They'd still kill him now.
AM #9: Is it really true that Lucille Frank stayed in Georgia after all these events took place?
AU: Yes. Lucille Frank lived in Atlanta all her life. She never remarried. She worked in a ladies dress store, in Atlanta. She was a friend of my grandmother's. But you know, when you're a kid, you grandmother's friends are just, they're old ladies, you don't really pay any attention to them. And she lived there always. But all I ever heard about her was she always signed her name, her checks, 'Mrs. Leo M. Frank.' My grandmother always made that distinction. She didn't sign them Lucille Frank, she signed them Mrs. Leo M. And my grandmother thought that was a great sense of devotion and pride.
TC: But she was still a relatively young woman when this all ended.
AU: When this ended, she was 25 years old.
TC: That's very young. And she never remarried.
AU: Never remarried.
TC: How tragic.
AM #10: Did you have any concerns about casting older actors in the roles of Leo and Lucille?
AU: Once we saw Brent and Carolee, it seemed stupid to try to get somebody 22 years old.
AM #11: Can you talk about Lucille's development as a woman, her decision to stand up for her husband, and to take a more active role in his defense? It was kind of an early feminist thing to do. And did she continue in this way after his death?
AU: She maintained her love for her husband. She was not in the public eye. She wrote an open letter to the public after it was all over, and I used the first sentence in her last speech. She said, 'I'm a Georgia girl, and I love Georgia. I hate what happened here, but I'm a proud Southern woman.' She was not in the public life. She wouldn't do interviews, she never talked about…. She just lived her life. She was a Southern lady.
AM #12: A question for Alfred Uhry. As a fellow Southerner, I think you have a very loving attitude toward the South... why did you leave?
AU: [to AM #12] Why did you leave? [laughter] I guess because New York is where it is.
TC: [to AU] Do you go back? You still have family who lives there.
AU: Oh yeah. My mother is there, my sister's there.
AM #13: I don't know if I remember this part very clearly, but it seems to me I read an article about Leo Frank shortly before Parade started, about his family in New York. A wealthy family.
AM #13: Yeah. And it also seemed to say that they were somewhat supportive of his trial? And…
AU: Well, they were supportive of him!
AM #13: But they didn't contribute…
JRB: That was one of the assertions that showed up in a lot of the yellow journalism at the time in Atlanta, was that Leo's defense was being financed by rich Jews in the North. Which was actually not true and proven during the case to be not true. Because Leo's parents didn't have all that much money, and in fact, they were not able to support the trial.
His mother did come down to Atlanta during the trial. And there was one point when she erupted in the courtroom. She got all crazy, once she yelled at the Attorney General during the proceedings. But Leo didn't have a big, rich, Jewish family up north. That was one of the great...all the big cases of Jews in the 20th century, you look at Beilis in Russia, you look at Dreyfus in France – they all carry the same stigma, something about Jews and their money and strange traditions and they're all gonna rape our children!
AM #13: Is there some reason why you didn't use that at all?
AU: Yeah, we just couldn't use everything. That's why.
TC: There's years and years of…
AU: We had to winnow out a lot, we left out a lot of stuff.
JRB: Tom Watson used to be, there was a point at which Tom Watson was a lot more specifically anti-Semitic. I thought it was kind of clichéd. He'd get up there and he'd say, oh 'The Jews' this and 'The Jews' that, and I'd think, 'Well, we saw that already, who cares?' We knew what was going on.
AM #14: I mean the bit about the mother coming down…
AU: We didn't have room. We didn't have enough time.
TC: And we don't have enough time tonight for more questions, I'm sorry to say! Thank you Alfred and Jason for coming tonight. And thanks to our audience, too. Good night! [applause]
Copyright ©1998 The Vivian Beaumont Theater Inc., d/b/a Lincoln Center Theater