March 23, 2002, 1:08AM

Masquerade stages a poignant 'Parade'
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Parade at last arrives in Houston courtesy of the enterprising Masquerade
Theatre. The landmark musical's grandeur and pageantry are necessarily
diminished in this intimate, heartfelt rendition, but its emotional wallop
is intact.

Alfred Uhry's Tony-winning libretto and Jason Robert Brown's Tony-winning
score for this 1998 succès d'estime add up to one of Broadway's proudest
achievements. They tell the true story of Leo Frank, the Brooklyn Jew
working as a factory superintendent in 1913 Atlanta -- wrongfully accused,
convicted and ultimately lynched for the murder of factory girl Mary Phagan.

The show's emotional center is the love story of Leo and wife Lucille, who
share a polite, passionless marriage until their fight to save him from the
gallows teaches them how much they need and love each other.

The notion of being wrongfully accused is a universal nightmare that Parade
turns into compelling drama. In a world full of injustice, Parade enlightens
by examining all the factors that came into play in a grievous real-life
instance: Leo's outsider status, the South's lingering resentment toward the
North, politicians and media figures eager to turn a tragic event to their
own advantage and a blight of anti-Semitism.

Every scene and song adds to our understanding of the tragedy.

The Old Red Hills of Home, the glorious anthem that opens and closes the
show, expresses the town's indomitable pride in its Southern heritage. It
Don't Make Sense pours out the grief of friends and family at the murdered
girl's funeral and sets up their quest for vengeance; no other song has
expressed the pain of loss with such wrenching eloquence. Where Will You
Stand When the Flood Comes? finds a fundamentalist demagogue inflaming the
town's ugliest prejudices. Parade shows how a crowd of Confederate loyalists
is turned into a raging lynch mob.

In counterpoint, Leo and Lucille's songs chart their emotional growth: from
the distance of What Am I Waiting For? to Lucille's finding her voice as she
admonishes Leo's accusers with the unforgettable You Don't Know This Man to
the pair's final soaring love duet All the Wasted Time.

Brown sets the stirring sentiments of his lyrics to music of freshness and
haunting beauty. Both score and script demonstrate virtually unparalleled
integrity. Nothing cheapens the enterprise or makes lighter going of its
tragic theme.

Phillip Duggins directs with immediacy and simplicity. Ilich Guardiola acts
a fine, edgy, unsentimental Leo, warming persuasively through his ordeal.
Kaytha Coker conveys Lucille's pain, frustration and devotion. Both leads
sing the demanding songs beautifully.

Luther Chakurian lends vocal fire to the Confederate Soldier who opens the
show and to his later role as Mary's anguished friend.

Katharine Randolph's bright Mary, Rebekah Dahl's woeful Mrs. Phagan, Omari
Tau Williams' explosive Jim Conley (the ex-con bribed to give false
testimony), Michael J. Ross' cynical reporter, Terry Jones' self-serving
prosecutor, Bill O'Rourke's hapless yet decent Governor Slaton and Joshua
Ryan's hate-spewing demagogue are all fine.

The choral singing is splendid, lifting the performance to stirring heights.
The physical production, though rough-hewn, will serve.

Despite minor faults and rough edges -- a few overly broad touches in
supporting characterizations, some scene endings that drag on when they
should black out abruptly -- this Parade succeeds by delivering its powerful
statement with skill and sincerity. You will find bigger, slicker musicals,
but it's unlikely you will encounter one more profoundly moving than Parade.

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