'Parade' seeks new life in Dallas


                 By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News


                 It's almost unheard of for a musical that flopped in New York to be
                 resurrected more than a year later for a national tour. But in the
                 case of Parade, the miracle is happening: Doubting Thomases
                 who question whether a show that didn't succeed in the Big Apple
                 can possibly be any good can judge for themselves when the
                 Dallas Summer Musicals brings Parade to town Tuesday.

                 Harold Prince, one of Broadway's most honored directors
                 (Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera), staged both the
                 Broadway and traveling versions of the powerful, controversial
                 piece. He's intrigued by this unusual opportunity and optimistic
                 about his show.

                 "It's odd. If you live long enough in the theater, you have every
                 kind of experience," Mr. Prince says.

                 "I'm very eager to have people see this show. I have little doubt in
                 my mind that Parade will find its audience."

                 Parade was a hard sell in New York for any number of reasons.
                 Audiences in search of escapist entertainment weren't charmed
                 by the idea of a musical about a lynching - the show is based on a
                 famous real-life Atlanta case in which a Jewish man was accused
                 of murdering a young factory worker. No big names headlined the
                 cast to sweeten the package, either.

                 On the other hand, Parade did build up a nucleus of hard-core

                 "It's a show that a lot of people in New York were passionate
                 about," composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown says.

                 Sometimes that kind of enthusiasm for a new show that falls
                 outside the usual lines, whether in the theater or on television, will
                 spread, given enough time. One thing killed any chance Parade
                 had to do that in New York: The original producer, Livent, went
                 bust just as it was about to open, so there was no money to
                 advertise or to keep the show alive while the public discovered it.

                 Parade had long closed by the time the 1999 Tony Awards rolled
                 around. But it did manage to walk off with top prizes to Mr. Brown
                 for best score and playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) for
                 best book of a musical.

                 Those awards whetted interest in the show around the country.
                 RCA Victor also released an original cast album that attracted lots
                 of attention.

                 "People who didn't get a chance to see the show were suddenly
                 eager," Mr. Brown says. "Also, there's not a whole lot of quality
                 new musical theater out there to tour."

                 The idea of Parade began when Livent and Mr. Prince wanted to
                 follow up successful productions of Show Boat and Ragtime with
                 another musical with an epic sweep. Mr. Uhry, who grew up in the
                 Atlanta Jewish community, suggested the notorious 1913 case
                 that still stirs up heated opinions in Georgia.

                 Originally, Stephen Sondheim was scheduled to write the songs.
                 But after the harrowing Passion, the elder statesman of American
                 musical composers decided he didn't want to tackle such heavy
                 subject matter again so soon.

                 Mr. Prince's daughter Daisy, a producer-director, had discovered
                 Mr. Brown playing piano in a bar and staged his first show, Songs
                 for a New World. She recommended that her father give him a
                 listen, and so a composer still in his mid-20s was signed on for
                 this project, which took more than $7 million to bring to Broadway
                 and $2 million to restore for the road.

                 Mr. Prince and the producers took a chance, and Parade made
                 Mr. Brown the youngest Tony-winning composer.Still not 30, he is
                 positively defiant in defending the quality of his show.

                 "It's a piece that asks a lot of an audience," he says. " It takes a lot
                 of risks. It pushes a lot of buttons. But when you come away you
                 are exhilarated."

                 Mr. Prince, though, emphasizes that while Parade is serious
                 musical theater with some almost operatic ambitions, it is still
                 supposed to be fun to watch.

                 "I'm not interested in lectures or history classes. I like the story,"
                 Mr. Prince says. "The two leading characters, Leo and Lucille, are
                 caught in what is almost an arranged marriage. They have never
                 really learned to know each other. Along comes a crisis, and
                 ultimately they fall in love with the people they really are."

                 Mr. Brown's score rises to the big dramatic climaxes with great
                 power. But it has plenty of light and entertaining moments as well.
                 The Act I finale, which is Leo's trial for the murder he didn't
                 commit, is treated almost like a vaudeville act with ragtime songs
                 for the lawyers and other participants.

                 For the road version, Mr. Prince has worked with a mostly fresh
                 group of actors, even though the original stars won Tony
                 nominations and New York Drama Critics Circle awards. Andrea
                 Burns, who plays Lucille Frank, says there has been "a lot of

                 "Even though the show closed early in New York, it had a
                 wonderful cast," she says. " We want to be as good as the first
                 bunch. But the important thing is that the show is being done,
                 which is what we all care about. It's so rewarding to see the crowd
                 leap to its feet every night when we are finished."

                 Mr. Prince says he has encouraged Ms. Burns and David Pittu,
                 who plays Leo, to find their own way into the piece.

                 "You can't ask talented people to carry over other talented
                 people's performances. There would be nothing in it for me if we
                 did that, either," he says.

                 He has tightened the show by about eight minutes, though. He
                 says the cuts have imparted "a buoyancy, a youthful energy that is

                 The director is taking the long view about this show, based on his
                 many experience in the theater. He recalls that it took 11 years for
                 Sweeney Todd, one of the most ground-breaking and most
                 lauded musicals ever, to turn a profit - through ancillary rights like
                 the CDs, the video version and subsequent productions.

                 "We had a devil of a time getting people into the theater for that,"
                 Mr. Prince says. "As the years go on, its stock has risen."

                 Dallas Summer Musicals president Michael A. Jenkins says he is
                 disappointed that only nine cities finally elected to present the
                 new touring version.

                 "A lot more than that expressed interest but finally chickened out,"
                 Mr. Jenkins says. "We'll probably lose money on it. But it's a good
                 show and I thought it was important to do it."

                 Mr. Prince is more upbeat. He figures the same thing that
                 happened to Sweeney Todd will happen to Parade.

                 "If younger people went to the theater more, it would have done
                 fine from the beginning," he says. " What gets onstage these days
                 is often dictated by the tastes of the baby boomers, which often
                 tends to the escapist. But they are not the basis of the future of this
                 art form.

                 "My money is on the real theater lovers and also on the young
                 people," he says. " My dream is that this show will eventually land
                 again in New York. But that is in the lap of the gods."

                 Parade, presented by the Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park
                 Music Hall, Tuesday through July 9. Performances at 8 p.m.
                 Tuesdays through Sundays, matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays,
                 Sundays and July 6. Tickets $9 to $55. Call Ticketmaster at
                 214-631-2787 or metro 972-647-5700.

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