Touring production proves 'Parade' isn't over yet

  By Alice T. Carter

  There's a sort of bittersweet symmetry in the
  idea that a musical about a man who was
  denied justice was also unjustly treated.

  A touring production of "Parade" arrives in
  town Tuesday night to close the Pittsburgh
  Civic Light Opera's 2000 season.

  It's a dark but compelling story about Leo
  Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jew living in Atlanta
  in 1913 who was falsely accused of
  murdering a young girl who worked in his
  factory. Railroaded through a trial on largely
  circumstantial evidence, he was found guilty
  and sentenced to hang. When the governor
  commuted his death sentence to life in
  prison, an enraged mob of vigilantes
  dragged him from prison in the middle of the
  night and lynched him.

  Alfred Uhry's script won the 1999 Tony for
  best book of a musical and Jason Robert
  Brown's music and lyrics took home that
  season's Tony for best original score.

  Those awards were a poignant triumph for the show's creative team, which included
  its co-conceiver and director, Harold Prince, and choreographer Patricia Birch.

  "Parade" already had been closed for months, after only 85 performances, a fact
  many saw as an additional casualty of the imploding financial empire of producer
  Garth Drabinsky and the Canadian production company Livent. There also was a
  round of negative reviews.

  "We had such a terrible time with the Livent disaster," Prince says. "Our producers
  went bankrupt on the front page of the New York Times. ... They defaulted on many of
  their debts. They left Lincoln Center (who would have moved the show to another
  theater) holding the bag. They didn't pay their share of the advertising.

  "It was a show I really love that got mistreated," Prince says. "I said when the show
  closed, we will see this show again. We will see this show in New York again ... and
  it will have a life. I know that about shows. I've had shows that had rocky initial lives,
  including `West Side Story.' ''

  Five months later, when Uhry accepted the Tony for best book, he held his award
  aloft and, taking a line out of his play, vowed "This is not over yet."

  Meanwhile, down in Atlanta, Christopher Manos, producer of the Theatre of the Stars,
  was breathing a sigh of relief because the show had not won the season's Tony for
  best musical.

  If that had happened, he knew some other, more powerful producer would have been
  interested in optioning it for a national tour.

  He had seen it in Manhattan before it closed and thought it was a natural project for
  his theater. Manos immediately began to put together a plan to revive "Parade" and
  send it out as a touring production.

  "I went to the creative team and they were thrilled," he recalls. "We're having to
  rethink how to do revivals with nothing new for balance coming out of Broadway."

  Prince, Uhry, Brown and Birch not only wanted to let Manos produce it, they were
  willing to get it in shape with revisions and to work on it in Atlanta under conditions
  somewhat reduced from what they were used to with Broadway productions.

  Manos got busy calling producers he knew, including the Civic Light Opera's Van
  Kaplan. In less than 2 ½ weeks he had put together a 16-week, 10-city tour that
  would allow him to proceed.

  Prince re-directed the show to fit on a proscenium stage, moved a musical number,
  and cut 12 minutes out of the production. "That's always easy to do when you come
  back to a show," Prince says. "The changes are for the good."

  For the new production, Prince hired David Pittu to play Leo Frank and Andrea Burns
  for the part of Frank's wife, Lucile. "It's a new company, a younger company in years
  ... that gives it more buoyancy, no question," Prince says. "But then I've given it more
  buoyancy ... the whole thing bubbles more. There's oh-so-much more laughter than
  there was at Lincoln Center. ... It's very funny now when you want it to be, and then
  the web tightens."

  When the revised "Parade" opened in Atlanta in June, audiences gave it a standing
  ovation despite the story being a touchy subject for many longtime residents.

  And why not, Manos says.

  "It has a beautiful score, one of the finest of recent times by a big new person, and the
  quintessential director, Harold Prince, who was here all the time. It's the continuation
  of that viewing of seriouso-type themes in musical theater form rather than going to

  Manos says the show has been doing about as well at the box office as he and
  presenters in other cities predicted. "It probably did better than I expected."

  But money isn't what matters most to Manos. "This is what we're here for: to do work
  we think is important and get it out there where people will see it."

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