Stage Review:
Tragedy slowly traps characters -- and audience -- in its spell

From the Post-Gazette
Wednesday, August 16, 2000

                 By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic


                                        They say everyone loves a parade.

                                        Not me -- not when massed Confederate
                                        battle flags march across the sky, no
                                        matter that much of the blood memorially
                                        shed was in the defense of home and
                                        family. My New England prejudice runs
                                        too deep.

                                        And what about "Parade," the somber
                                        new musical drama that begins in 1913
                                        with just such a Confederate Memorial
                                        Day parade? Not everyone will love it,
                                        either. But you don't need to love
                                        something to be stirred by it, to find it
                                        grabbing you surreptitiously, compelling
                                        interest that shades gradually into

                 That 1913 Atlanta parade comes on the day young Mary Phagan
                 is murdered. The annual celebration returns at mid-play and
                 finale, marking the speedy passage of the two years until the
                 lynching of an apparently guiltless Leo Frank.

                 So this play is no colorful parade like last week's "Anything Goes."
                 If that's your one idea of a musical, then "Parade" is more like a
                 funeral procession -- a musical tragedy. It may seem odd that the
                 2000 CLO season comes to a close on this note, but there's
                 something bracing about it, too -- after all, man does not live by
                 Cole Porter alone.

                 The first sight on the Benedum stage is plenty somber itself: The
                 giant tree that we cannot help but know (and if you don't, I'm telling
                 you) will be the stolid agent of Leo Frank's end. That tree is with
                 us all play long, brooding, implacable even when briefly disguised
                 as the site of a hopeful picnic, at the exact point Leo's sour
                 martyrdom seems destined to be averted.

                 The tree also starts as part of a touching Civil War tableau, just so
                 we'll remember what it is all still about, less than 50 years after the
                 last battle -- and even perhaps today, almost 90 years further on.
                 Then we meet the Franks: Jewish, Brooklyn-born Leo, prickly,
                 inhibited, bewildered by the South even after four years; and
                 Lucille, his gracious, humorous Southern Jewish wife. It's not a
                 bad marriage, it just hasn't blossomed yet.

                 Like a parade on speed, "Parade" moves lickety split into its story.
                 Before we know it, the girl is dead with her murder left vague, as it
                 must be. There's a no-'count newspaper opportunist happy to
                 introduce us to the mess of working class exploitation, racial
                 separation, Jew-baiting, politics and rabble-rousing in which the
                 Frank case became its year's trial of the century.

                 This makes a potent brew, as when religious demagogue Tom
                 Watson croons a bigoted prayer for vengeance just as prosecutor
                 Hugh Dorsey finds a way to create evidence out of invitation,
                 determination and intimidation.

                 You're dying for Leo to speak up and defend himself, but he
                 doesn't know how. He's a non-hero hero, proud, disdainful and
                 hard to love. The historical moment has its inevitable victim. A
                 dance number at the end of Act 1 celebrates Leo's conviction, and
                 you'd feel guilty yourself to applaud.

                 But in his brief trial defense, Leo finally begins to reveal himself.
                 It's too late for justice, but it sets us up for the surprise of Act 2: Our
                 discovery of Leo and Lucille and theirs of each other. The tragedy
                 briefly blossoms into a love story, just as a brave Georgia
                 governor commutes the death sentence, citing another governor,
                 2000 years before, who let another Jew die unjustly.

                 Jason Robert Brown's score grows on you as slowly as the show.
                 On first hearing, its range impresses, extending to touches of
                 gospel, ragtime and work chant. "The Old Red Hills of Home"
                 sounds like a found regional anthem; other songs echo period
                 material. Gradually you hear the pathos, and no one could resist
                 "All the Wasted Time," the Franks' heart-touching final duet.

                 At Tuesday's curtain call, a standing ovation greeted David Pittu
                 and Andrea Burns (Leo and Lucille), and continued as they
                 gestured to the pit where composer Brown was conducting. All
                 deserve their plaudits. Pittu carefully moves from passive to
                 hopeful, letting us find his heroism at our own speed. In a richer,
                 more likable role, Burns warms us all. And Brown's music moves
                 us inexorably toward destiny.

                 The tree itself is odd -- not the voluminously maternal tree of the
                 New York production, but an angular, tormented monster that
                 looks more like a Jabberwock or a Gerrymander.

                 Maybe that's a little like "Parade." Love it or not, it grows on you.

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