How could I be so lucky
What kind of fool could have taken you for granted?
-- Leo Frank emerging from his rather prissy, pompous personality to express the love nourished by tragic circumstance. The lyrics are from the duet "All the Wasted Time" (illustrated above) in which tragedy brings passion and understanding to a conflicted relationship.
Parade completes playwright Alfred Uhry's Atlanta trilogy. As directed and co-conceived by Harold Prince it is an uncompromisingly serious musical. A big leafless oak tree with its ominous protruding branch is an immediate and ever-present omen that your ticket is an invitation to a hanging -- the hanging of Leo Frank by an angry lynch mob determined that the court's verdict that he was guilty of murdering a young factory girl be carried out. Mr. Prince has not candy coated this dark episode in American history with whistle-and-dance tunes or a neatly tied up feel-good ending, but Parade is filled with the spectacle that a big musical needs to be true to its genre.
Above all, it has two stars who make it soar above its sensational murder trial roots, Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello. Their emotionally and musically rich portrayals bring two names from the headlines vividly to life -- an ordinary man and woman in a not particularly romantic relationship (their marriage was said to be arranged) falling deeply in love as a result of finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
No doubt there will be those who will think this musical chronicle of the notorious 1913 trial and the subsequent lynching should have been done as a straight play, like its predecessors Driving Miss Daisy and Last Night at Ballyhoo. After all, theater goers who accept tragic plays, don't always rush to see operatically dark musicals like Passion and Assassins (Their unpopularity prompted Stephen Sondheim turned down the chance to musicalize Uhry's story as "too dark"). But for those who appreciate a thinking musical, Parade has much to offer -- and remember.
With newcomer Jason Robert Brown admittedly Mr. Prince's second choice composer-lyricist, it's only natural to wonder what Sondheim would have done with this book -- or even Michael John LaChiusa whose best of all possible La Ronde adaptation, the musical Hello Again, first acquainted me with the spectacular talent of Carolee Carmello. Yet, here we have young Mr. Brown with music and lyrics, beautifully orchestrated by Don Sebesky and appealing enough to be judged without comparisons to might-have-been composers. His score embodies a diversity of musical genres and moods. It succeeds at all times in moving the story forward and does so modestly in that there are no built-in pauses for extended applause.
Audiences leaving the theater will come away mostly with an overall sense of the music. But then most serious musicals require more than a one-time hearing to make a lasting impression (one reason I went to see Parade in previews and again two days after the official opening). Still there are a remarkable number of songs which will immediately and strongly resonate on the ear, heart and memory. Three which immediately come to mind: Leo's first solo "Can I Call This Home," Lucille's "Do It Alone" and Leo and Lucille's heart-wrenching duet "All the Wasted Time." These songs are eloquent and mood-appropriate. The more playful, smartly syncopated "Big News" is aptly left to the newspaperman (most effectively played by Evan Pappas) for whom the case is a respite from from the boredom of the police beat.
The fantasy trial scene in which the staid and bespectacled Leo bursts into the "Come Up to My Office" song and dance routine is likely to be more controversial. While no one will argue that it shows Brent Carver's talent off to splendid effect, some will find it jarring (probably the same people who failed to respond to Pennies From Heaven ). For anyone who closely looks at this tense and proper man as three young factory workers accuse him of impropriety, it is in keeping with the atmosphere of the trial to have Leo enact those charges to bring home the unlikelihood of their being true. It is an entertaining interlude that at once deflects and escalates the tension.
Another potentially controversial scene is the Governor's tea party during which Lucille makes her plea for clemency for her husband. Those who will compare this show to Ragtime will cite this as a similar case of prettying up a dark story. There are indeed a number of surface resemblances between the two musicals -- their time frames, their history based plots, and the change and growth of a leading character from ordinary housewife to woman of daring and fortitude. While there's even a somewhat "Wheel of Dreams" tone to the finale, Parade never succumbs to the surging all's well upbeat dreamer's anthem. It's never just pretty -- which brings us back to the two-stepping scene at the Governor's mansion.
That dance party, like Carver's courtroom fantasy scene, furthers rather than interrupts the dramatic situation. It aptly illustrates how life goes on for Atlanta's true insiders while this tragic miscarriage of injustice threatens to go forth unheeded. It also underscores the giant leap towards decency eventually made by the Governor. This sort of aptness applies to all of Patricia Birch's choreography. Particularly noteworthy is the way she has the trial literally errupt into a dance after the guilty verdict. The crowd dances its way into the street (as Atlantans did dance in the streets according to newspaper stories) and gradually snake their way around a stunned Leo and Lucille. It's a terrific and terrifying first act finale.
What about book and staging?
With the trial alone taking up nine scenes it's clear that it takes a muscular and intelligent book and direction to successfully bring together the three historic segments -- the murder, the trial, the lynching -- and the personal story of Leo and Lucille. Uhry's book does indeed deliver the needed heft and intelligence and the integration of book and lyrics is very strong. If at times Uhry seems to lean somewhat too heavily towards demonizing the South and martyring Frank, a study of the case will make clear that the book follows facts quite closely -- including the smashing of Jewish store owners' windows after the tragedy. Probably the most fictionalized aspects of the book pertain to the relationship between Lucille and Leo for even though Lucille was a friend of "Miss Daisy" (Alfred Uhry's grandmother) her private life was just that, private.
In his role as director and co-conceiver Harold Prince has hung it all on a very viable concept, three Confederate Memorial Day parades. By building the tragedy in the making, its dramatic high point and its aftermath around the parades, he has achieved a fine sense of historical spectacle Those parades also anchor the story's time frame (1914-16) and serve as the leitmotif to explain the why and how of a story whose outcome is known from the outset -- why the murder of the young farm girl turned factory worker stirred such violent feelings, and how Leo and Lucille's marriage reflected the deep-seated differences between Northerners and Southerners. Since Act One must spend considerable time setting up the characters and the crime it is slower and less forceful emotionally than Act Two.
The 35-member cast is obviously too large for detailed comments. All acquit themselves well in terms of solid acting and singing. Rufus Bonds, Jr (as Jim Conley), Herndon Lackey (as prosecutor Dorsey, and John Hickok (as Governor Slaton) have particularly strong voices.
In the stagecraft department, Judith Dolan's costumes are authentic and handsome and Ricardo Hernandez's veratile and efficient sets lend the needed visual diversity to the various locations. Howell Binkley's once again proves himself a wizard of lighting (his outstanding design contributed enormously to another trial-of-the-century play, Never the Sinner -- see link). The red sky chain gang scene in Act II, captures some of the splendor of the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.
In the end, this is a bittersweet story of two people who were caught up in a tidal wave beyond their making. It is a story that emerges amid a mass of images and voices that deserve our attention. It's not light musical entertainment and the only humming it entails -- is the hum of history brought to heart stirring life.
Book by Alfred Uhry
Lyrics and music by Jason Robert Brown
Directed and co-conceived by Harold Prince.
Starring Brent Carver and s Carolee Carmello as Leo and Lucille Selig Frank. Featured players: J.B. Adams as Rosser; Ray Aranha as Newt Lee; Rufus Bonds, Jr. as Jim Conley; Don Chastainas Judge Roan; Jeff Edgerton as Fiddlin' John; John Hickok as Governor Slaton; Herndon Lackey as Hugh Dorsey; Jessica Molaskey as Mrs. Phagan; Kirk McDonald (as Frankie Epps; Evan Pappas as Britt Craig; Christy Carlson Romano as Mary Phagen; and John Leslie Wolfe as Tom Watson.
Ensemble: Adinah Alexander, Diana Brownstone, Duane Boutte, Thursday Farrar, Will Gartshore, Abbi Hutcherson, Tad Ingram, Emily Klein, Angela Lockett, Megan McGinnis, J.C. Montgomery, Brooke Sunny Moriber, Randy Redd, Joel Robertson, Peter Samuel, Robin Skye, Don Stephenson, Bill Szobody, Anne Torsiglieri, Melanie Vaughan and Wysandra Woolsey.
Set Design:Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design: Judith Dolan
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 150 West 65th Street ((212/239-6200)
11/12/98-2/28/99; opening 12/17/98
Closing 2/28/99 after 39 previews and 84 performances.
Seen at a 11/22/preview and again 12/19/98 and reviewed by Elyse Sommer
Anthem: "The Dream of Atlanta - Ensemble
"How Can I Call This Home" - Leo Frank, Ensemble
"The Picture Show- Frankie Epps, Mary Phagan
"Leo At Work/What Am I Waiting For?" - Leo Frank, Lucille Frank
Interrogation -"I am trying to remember" - Newt Lee, Mrs. Phagan
"Big News!" - Britt Craig
"There Is a Fountain/It Don't Make Sense" - Frankie Epps, Ensemble (incorporating "There is a Fountain" traditionl hymn by William Cowper, melody by Lowell Mason (1772)
"Watson's Lullaby" - Tom Watson
"Somethin' Ain't Right" - Hugh Dorsey
"Real Big News" - Britt Craig, Reporters, Ensemble
"You Don't Know This Man" - Lucille Frank
The Trial (Finale Act 1)
Pt.I: "It Is Time Now" - Fiddlin' John, Tom Watson, Ensemble
Pt.II: "Twenty Miles From Marietta" --Hugh Dorsey
Pt.III: "Frankie's Testimony - Frankie Epps, Mary Phagan, Watson, Ensemble
Pt.IV: "The Factory Girls/Come Up to My Office - Iola,Essie, Monteen, Leo Frank
Pt. V: "Newt Lee's Testimony" -Newt Lee Ensemble
Pt. VI: "My Child Will Forgive Me - Mrs. Phagan
Pt. VII: "That's What He Said - Jim Conley, Ensemble
Pt. VIII: "Leo's Statement/It's Hard to Speak My Heart" - Leo Frank
Pt. IX: "Closing Statements and Verdict - Ensemble
"A Rumblin' and a Rollin'" - Riley, Angela, Newt Lee, Ensemble
"Do it alone" - Lucille Frank
"Pretty Music" - Governor Slaton
"Letter to the Governor" - Judge Roan
"This Is Not Over Yet" - Leo, Lucille, Factory Girls, Newt Lee
Blues: "Feel the Rain Fall - Jim Conley, Ensemble
"Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes - Tom Watson, Hugh Dorsey, Ensemble
"All the Wasted Time" - Leo Frank, Lucille Frank
Finale - Ensemble
Parade, while the first musical about the case, is not the first dramatization. A film based on the case, Though Shalt Not Kill came out just four months after the lynching The 1937 movie "They Won't Forget" was a fictionalized adaptation, focusing on two men falsely accused of rape and murder of a teen-age girl (a first role for Lana Turner). Claude Raines played a big time Northern lawyer who tooks the case. The excellent Lincoln Center Theater Review includes a remembrance about the film by its director Mervyn LeRoy. A more recent television mini series, The Murder of Mary Phagan, (1988) focused on Governor Slaton's dilemma, as Alfred Uhry's book puts its central focus on how the the tragedy transformed an arranged marriage between a Jewish Georgia peach and an uptight Northener into a love story. A nonmusical play, The Lynching of Leo Frank, by another Atlanta playwright, Robert Myers was produced by the Pegasus Players in Chicago -- its focus is on Alonzo Mann the pencil factory office boy who came forward with extenuating evidence, albeit 70 years after the fact.
Frank was buried in his native Brooklyn but Lucille Frank remained in Atlanta and continued to sign all her papers as Mrs. Leo Frank. She became a saleswoman (what Atlantans called a vendeuse) at a local dress store.
Jim Conley, the factory sweeper and key witness against Frank was given a year on the chain gang for his alleged assistance to Frank in removing Mary Phagan's body. He did , however, spend twenty years in the state penitentiary for an attempted burglary in 1919. His last appearance in the press was in his 1962 obituary. The testimony of Alfonso Mann, an office boy at the factory, pointed a convincing finger at Conley as the murderer but, coming as it did 70 years after the trial, it did not change the grim facts. While Frank was officially pardoned, his name was never officially cleared.
Hugh Dorsey, the prosecutor, reaped the wages of the sins for which he got Frank convicted (after a less than impressive record of previous convictions). In 1916 he became Governor by a huge majority. He retired to private life in 1921 thoug he later served as a judge of the Atlanta City Court as well as Fulton Country Superior Court. He died in 1949.
Governor John M. Slaton became a political outcast from his native state, though he continued to practice law. When he died in 1955, the Atlanta Constitution tried to redress the scorn heaped on him with these words: ". . .it was one of destiny's mocking ironies his giant integrity should have cost him his political life .
Tom Watson, like Hugh Dorsey, profited mightily from his bigoted editorializing against Frank. His increasing political power won him a seat in the U.S. Senate. When he died in 1922, the Ku Klux Klan sent a cross of roses eight feet high to his funeral.
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© Elyse Sommer, December 1998