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Broadway Show Listing

Parade

book by Alfred Uhry
music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
stars Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello
with Rufus Bonds, Jr., Kirk McDonald, Herndon Lackey, Evan Pappas, J.B. Adams, Ray Aranha, Don Chastain, Jeff Edgerton, John Hickok, Jessica Molaskey, Christy Carlson Romano, John Leslie Wolfe
directed by Harold Prince
choreography by Patricia Birch
settings by Riccardo Hernandez
costumes by Judith Dolan
lighting by Howell Binkley
sound by Jonathan Deans
orchestrations by Don Sebesky

opened December 17, 1998
closed February 28, 1999
presented by Lincoln Center Theater
in association with Livent (US) Inc.

at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre
schedule: Tue - Sat at 8pm; Wed and Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm
running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
tickets cost $40 - $75
call Telecharge (212) 239-6260 for tickets

 

If Parade were as affecting as it is ambitious, it would be a world-class musical. Authors Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, and director Harold Prince, have crafted a potentially heart-pounding, soul-stirring show from a particularly ugly episode in American history, the framing, conviction, and subsequent lynching of Leo Frank, a northern Jew living in Atlanta who was falsely accused of killing 13-year-old Mary Phagan in 1913. But only a few times do our hearts pound, and not at all, finally, was my soul stirred: this austere, cerebral piece provokes thought--lots of it--but little feeling or emotion.

The tragedy is that it could have: Parade, overloaded and unfocused from a thematic standpoint, and inadequately conceived from a structural one, is marked throughout by greatness. With time--a good deal of it, I think--a brilliant musical play might emerge from what feels, on stage, like a very good but very unfinished first draft.

Parade opens with a young Confederate soldier on his way to fight in the Civil War, singing about the cherished way of life he is about to defend in a song called "The Old Red Hills of Home." We watch him morph into an older version of himself, fifty years later, getting ready to participate in a Confederate Memorial Day Parade, still emblematic of the vanishing ante-bellum South. And then the parade itself passes by, a celebration of engrained hurtful pride and prejudice and ignorance, presided over by Georgia's popular governor Jack Slaton.

Next we meet Leo Frank, the supervisor of an Atlanta pencil factory, a Jew from Brooklyn who doesn't fit in with, and indeed rather passively hates, his neighbors. Leo goes to work on this Memorial Day, where he is visited by one of the young girls who works in his factory for ten cents an hour. This is Mary Phagan, and Leo turns out to be one of the last people to see her alive. The next day, two policemen come to the Frank house and bring Leo to the factory's basement, where the murdered body of Mary Phagan has been discovered.

Quickly, scarily, and inevitably, Leo is framed for the crime. Act One concludes with his trial, in which innuendo and fabrication combine to convict the innocent defendant, who is sentenced to hang. In Act Two, Leo's devoted wife Lucille convinces Governor Slaton to commute the death sentence. As soon as he does so, an angry mob breaks into Leo's cell and lynches him. The final image of the show is of the widowed Lucille, standing alone while another Memorial Day parade whirrs by behind her.

Mr. Uhry and Mr. Brown and Mr. Prince want to show us what ignorance and prejudice and blind hate, fueled by a self-interested media and an angry mob, can do. They succeed a few times in Act One, in a bitterly ironic song called "Big News!," for example, which is sung by a hungry, cynical newsman who will fan the flames of the Frank case for his own enrichment; and in the booming, crowd-pleasing testimony of the state's star witness, Jim Conley, who claims to have witnessed Mary's murder in the rousing "That's What He Said"; and especially in the darkly chilling "Come Up to My Office," in which a phantom Leo shows us the monster that the people of Atlanta have made him out to be. Brent Carver, who gives a masterful performance as Leo, is never better than in this number, revealing the repellent shadows of everyone's imagination with mad, menacing glee.

Most of the time, however, Parade's creators fail to compel us to understand their purpose. Sometimes they pull back from it: way too often in Act One we are deflected from or distracted by the events unfolding on stage; for example, I spent a lot of time reflecting on how the protections guaranteed us by the Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s would have prevented many of the injustices suffered by Leo; I clearly should not have been. Other times they veer off in other directions: in Act Two there is a song sung by four African-American characters, two of whom never appear again, about the prejudice they face from whites. And there's a pseudo-feminist angle introduced as well, as we see Lucille grow from a benign, passive wife to a courageous, assertive partner, helping Leo mount his campaign for appeal and pardon. Valid themes both, but off the main point.

The show's title manifests itself physically three times during the show, but what these parades signify is not clear. This is the fundamental, though not the only, conceptual weakness of Parade: this work is as unfocused in terms of form and style as it is in terms of content and theme.

What we see, then, on stage at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, is disappointing and unsatisfying. There are some good performances, notably Mr. Carver's, but also Evan Pappas's as the soulless reporter, John Hickok's as the courageous governor Jack Slaton, and Kirk McDonald's as Mary's young, heartbroken beau Frankie Epps. And there are powerfully spoken messages in Mr. Uhry's dialogue, varied and sometimes stirring melodies in Mr. Brown's score, and occasional mesmerizing stage pictures in Mr. Prince's direction. But, in spite of its virtues, Parade left me cold; there is much here to admire and respect but virtually nothing to love.

show reviewed on December 26, 1998

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Copyright 1998 Martin Denton
Please send comments to mddenton@botz.com
Last update: 01 March 1999