Homecoming 'Parade' energizes Edgerton
Kathy Janich - Staff
Tuesday, June 13, 2000
When the curtain goes up on "Parade" tonight at
the Fox Theatre, Jeff Edgerton will be home: He'll be
singing from the stage on which he had his first
professional job. He'll be singing in a role he thought
was history when "Parade's" Broadway run ended in
Edgerton, who first trod the Fox stage in "42nd
Street" in 1993, plays the Young Soldier, a
man-child off to the Civil War. He's the first
character to appear, his "Old Red Hills of Home" a
bittersweet song of longing --- for the girl he leaves
behind and the land he's sworn to protect.
"Parade" --- directed by Broadway legend Hal Prince with a Tony Award-winning
book by Atlanta native Alfred Uhry and a Tony-winning score by Jason Robert
Brown --- is a murder mystery and a love story. Its tells of the 1913 slaying
of young Mary Phagan at Atlanta's National Pencil Co.; the subsequent trial
and conviction of her boss, a Brooklyn-born Jew named Leo Frank;
and the lynching
of Frank by vigilantes in Marietta. It is framed by three Confederate Memorial Day parades, hence its title.
Edgerton says, "Hal Prince does these kinds of shows that hold up a mirror to the audience and say, 'This could be you. Don't let this happen again. Don't be
this prejudiced. Don't be this bigoted.' I think this is less a story about the past than it is about our future: 'Don't let this kind of thing happen again.'
"I'd like to think that with the kind of theater Kenny (Leon, Alliance Theatre
artistic director) does here, and with people from all different regions of the country here, people will be able to accept the fact that we're storytelling," says
Edgerton, who learned of the Frank case as a boy. "It's not anything that's personal against Atlanta. I'd like to think that people can see it as a story that took place in another time when things were different."
Edgerton, a slender 6-footer with a long face, a high forehead and a hairline
that's retreating ever so slightly, spent his early years in Anderson, S.C., wherehis parents worked for different car dealerships. ("They sell cars; I sell myself," he says.) He's a 1989 graduate of Woodward Academy in College Park and received a degree in drama from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
While still in college he did "The Boys From Syracuse" at the Alliance (1993). He was in the Broadway cast of "Grease" and did early work on "Side Show"
and Paul Simon's "The Capeman." He reluctantly turned down the first reading
of "Parade" because he was contracted to do another Southern-themed show,
"Kudzu," based on the Doug Marlette comic strip, at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut.
He was hoping "Parade's" creators would call on him again, and they did, when the show headed to Toronto in 1997 for a workshop. That led to Broadway and
now to Atlanta, the first stop on a nine-city tour that will keep "Parade" alive through October.
"When Alfred (Uhry) said in his Tony acceptance speech that there was going to be a tour, and it was going to start in Atlanta, I said, 'Boy, how cool would
that be!' " Edgerton says.
The actor also plays the character Fiddlin' John. And, unlike the fictional Young Soldier, Fiddlin' John really existed.
"He was this guy who sang songs about Mary Phagan on the steps of the
courthouse. He's all dressed in black. It's nice to move from the wide-eyed innocent kid to the beady-eyed country fiddle player," Edgerton says.
So what will this hometown boy be thinking tonight as the orchestra tunes up and he prepares to sing the first notes of this show that could prove controversial with Atlantans?
"I'm honored that Hal and Jason and Alfred feel like I'm worthy of that task," he says softly. "It's going to be fortuitous that I'll be singing about home and be home. It's a pleasure that I don't think I'll ever have again. It's one of those circumstances where you're doing a great show, an original musical by a director whose shows you've idolized, by a great young composer, by a book writer who's the only guy that's ever won a Pulitzer, a Tony and an Oscar, and I'm singing about home. What else is there?
"I've been looking forward to this week for months."
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