'Parade's' captivating music makes a statement
By Daryl H. Miller, Times Staff Writer
September 17, 2003
Music speaks straight to the heart, making it a powerful medium through which
to address serious topics. Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua
Logan used it to address racism in 1949's "South Pacific." A half century
later, another musical theater team returned to that topic in "Parade."
As their subject, writer Alfred Uhry, director Harold Prince and emerging
composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown turned to the lynching of a Jewish man,
Leo Frank, in the emotional aftermath of a 13-year-old girl's murder in 1913
Atlanta. Their show opened in late 1998 and earned admiring reviews as well
as Tony awards for best score and book. The show failed, however, to advance
to Broadway after a 10-week engagement at New York's Lincoln Center, and
it has yet to receive a full, professional staging in Southern California.
This week, though, the area is getting a good look at "Parade" in a semistaged
concert by the Musical Theatre Guild. An enthusiastically received presentation
Monday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale will be followed by two performances
Sunday at Scherr Forum in Thousand Oaks.
Rarely does such captivating music send so many shivers along the spine.
Time and again, enthusiasm swells in Brown's evocations of hymns, folk, blues,
ragtime and jazz, only to reveal a dark undercurrent in lyrics that suggest
the racism bubbling in America's melting pot.
The show's message was powerfully conveyed Monday by a 34-member cast under
Calvin Remsberg's direction. Performers carried scripts for reference; scene-setting
was left largely to Shon LeBlanc's period costumes and the artful arrangement
of benches, chairs and balustrades. In the pit, Steven Smith led a tight
Based on a real-life incident, the musical is framed by Atlanta's Confederate
Memorial Day parade. On the day that it was held in 1913, young Mary Phagan
was murdered at the pencil factory where she worked. Suspicion quickly fell
on Frank, the factory supervisor. His tragic fate becomes a cautionary tale
about racism and false patriotism.
Among the gripping moments is a love song laced with revenge as fresh-faced
Erik Altemus mourns Mary in "It Don't Make Sense."
Not everything is gloomy, however, for "Parade" is also the story of a man
coming alive in the face of death as well as a demonstration of love's power
to conquer all.
Misty Cotton delivers the stirring "You Don't Know This Man," in which Frank's
wife, Lucille, rises to loving, impassioned defense. Later, hope takes flight
as she and Ira Denmark, as Frank, twine their voices in "This Is Not Over
Yet" and "All the Wasted Time."
Sunday's performances will be the same as Monday's, except with only five
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