Summer Theatre's Parade Offers History Lesson and Entertainment

Wilmington College-Community Summer Theatre views its mission as one of both entertainment and education.

Audiences attending shows through the years in WC's venerable Boyd Auditorium can attest to the entertainment value of a well-presented story. But the theater experience inherits an educational dimension when it challenges and stretches the abilities of the actors and takes the audience on a journey of insight and discovery.

The musical "Parade" promises to be just such a production. It runs July 18, 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 with an 8 p.m. curtain time in Boyd Auditorium.

"Parade" is the tragic, true story of the trial and lynching of a man wrongly accused of murder. In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Georgia, is put on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a pencil factory worker under his employ.

Already guilty in the eyes of most, his only defenders are a governor with a conscience and, eventually, his Southern wife, who finds the strength and love to become his greatest champion. Uhry's script features a dark look at the nuances and history of the South.

"It's not simply a story about a crime and trial. It's the story of Leo and his wife, Lucille-it's an extraordinary love story," said director Steven Haines, noting the title "Parade" is the result of the girl being killed during a parade honoring Southern traditions and the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

"The parade is a symbol of what the South was at the time," he said. "It's a metaphor for where that society was in 1913-and how it was changed by the event."
Among its many challenges, the show asks the audience to look at the power of the press and the polarizing role it played in the Frank case. William E. Peelle of Peelle Law Offices in Wilmington, said it was a famous case of irresponsible journalism that "fanned the flames of public emotion" in Atlanta. Peelle and fellow attorney Dan Buckley, of the Cincinnati law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, used the upcoming production of Parade as a focal point for encouraging support of the summer theater program among the local legal community.

"This is a prime example of the pen being mightier than the sword," Peelle said.

"People not supplied with the truth can be persuaded to react in ways they might not have otherwise reacted," he added. "This can happen when people in positions of influence begin to make decisions based on emotion and the popularity of the public tide of the era and move away from the professional commitment to fairness, neutrality and providing objective information to the masses."

Murder, prejudice, sensationalism, a lynching-could this be the fodder for an enjoyable summer evening at the theater? Absolutely and by all means! Haines said.
"Parade" is a two-time Tony Award winner for its daring, innovation and boldness in looking at the complex dynamics of an extraordinary moment in history. It won six Drama Desk Awards and received the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best musical of the season.

Haines explained that Broadway "visionary" Hal Prince took on the project of directing "Parade" with the expectation it would be another of his contemporary musicals reflecting theater's "new drive." Prince secured the highly regarded, young composer Jason Robert Brown to write the music based on Alfred Uhry's ("Driving Miss Daisy") script.

"Of the generation beyond Stephen Soldheim, Jason Robert Brown is one of the most significant composers," Haines said. "I was completely taken with the music when I first heard the score for Parade. It's such an emotionally charged story."

The director said the College-Community Summer Theatre has evolved to the enviable point at which it can "explore a newer repertoire" of shows with a core group of "talented and committed" actors that return year after year.

"We have developed a very strong reputation as far as production quality and performance level. We do things that go far beyond the scope of most community theaters," he said. "One of the reasons I think we are as good as we are is we do these productions that challenge the performers-and our audience has grown along with us.
"I think part of the reason people go to the theatre is to experience something new, and we've educated our audience to expect something new," Haines said.

"As much as the audience loves them, we can only do so many "Hello Dollies," "Music Mans" and "The Sound of Musics." It's much more fascinating to take a look at newer works than to always return to the standard musical theatre repertoire-at one time or another, we've hit all the biggies," he added. "We as actors and the direction staff find the biggest challenges and rewards in doing these newer pieces and the audiences really seem to respond very well to the challenges that are inherent in the contemporary works."

Haines encourages potential audience members to make reservations before the show opens because "Parade's" run is limited to six performances. "So often people hear by word-of-mouth how good a show was the opening weekend only to find out the second weekend has sold out by the time they call for tickets," he said.

Reservations are available by contacting the Theatre Box Office at (937) 382-6661 ext. 267 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Tickets also can be purchased at the box office, which is located in the Fine Arts Building at Wilmington College.
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