Musical reaches admirable heights despite an against-the-grain subject


                 By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

                 Wish you could have heard George Gershwin play Rhapsody in
                 Blue? Or been at an early performance of West Side Story? Then
                 get down to the Music Hall at Fair Park quick.

                 The Dallas Summer Musicals opened Parade there Tuesday. If
                 we're lucky, this remarkable show lights the way to the future of
                 the American lyric theater. The superb actors just left the hands of
                 the greatest living director of musicals, Harold Prince, two weeks
                 ago. The score's brilliant composer, Jason Robert Brown, is
                 urging on an incredible performance as the pit conductor.

                 Eighteen months ago playwright Alfred Uhry and Mr. Brown
                 brought their show to New York, where it fought financial
                 flimflammery and critical obtuseness valiantly but to little avail.
                 Parade closed before the two of them won Tony Awards for their

                 The wholehearted faith of Mr. Prince, who also directed The
                 Phantom of the Opera and many of Stephen Sondheim's major
                 efforts, helped convince backers to mount a tour anyway.
                 Passionate conviction is perhaps the rarest commodity in the
                 commercial American theater. It's positively unheard of in a
                 musical. But that's what Parade has to offer.

                 The show is admittedly a hard sell because its subject matter
                 sounds so grim. Mr. Uhry based it on an infamous 1913 case in
                 his hometown, Atlanta. Leo Frank, a Jewish man from Brooklyn
                 who had come to Georgia to manage a sweatshop, is convicted of
                 raping and murdering a young factory employee. When the
                 governor postpones the execution because he mistrusts the
                 evidence, a bigoted mob lynches the prisoner.

                 Such a bald description, though, misses the essence of Parade.
                 The musical tells the deepest and most poignant love story - it's
                 just easy to miss because the lovers are already married when the
                 story begins. Leo and Lucille Frank have a comfortable but distant
                 marriage before he is dragged off to jail. At first she panics from all
                 the negative publicity and even begins to doubt her husband's
                 innocence. But finally she becomes his biggest champion and a
                 much more loved and loving wife.

                 Andrea Burns' Lucille makes the touring production even better
                 than the New York original. Ms. Burns acts more subtly and sings
                 even more gloriously than the wonderful Carolee Carmello, who
                 earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway interpretation. With
                 Ms. Burns in the role, Lucille glows with an inner fervor and
                 beauty that makes her one of the most winning characters in an
                 American musical.

                 As Leo, David Pittu acts with great force and manages the difficult
                 music with credit. We see the man gradually melt from the cold
                 and nervous stranger he is at the beginning. Leo becomes a
                 political symbol and almost a secular saint. Mr. Pittu lets us see
                 and believe all this without becoming a bore.

                 The thing about Parade is that it has so many interesting
                 characters, all of whom have something fresh and new to sing.
                 You might imagine it impossible to turn such a story into music,
                 but Mr. Brown has done so ingeniously. The spirit of the
                 Confederacy is embodied in a folklike anthem. False witnesses
                 and sensationalist reporters conspire in ragtime. The governor
                 courts his female constituents in a two-step.

                 Mr. Brown, like all smart theater composers, saves his best
                 numbers for last. A black witness, now on a chain gang, sings
                 raw-boned country blues when he gets a visit from the governor.
                 The racist newspaper publisher ignites a rabble-rousing, angrily
                 angular tune. And Lucille and Frank have a final, heart-breaking
                 love song.

                 No musical before Parade tries to cram so much realistic plot,
                 filled with political irony and subtle moral thinking, into 2 1/2
                 hours. It's as well-crafted - and as melodic - as any opera. But the
                 melodies don't sound operatic. They're drawn from the great
                 traditions of American popular music.

                 Maybe it's fitting that Parade's vindication should come from a tour
                 that begins in the South. We get a kick out of Mr. Uhry's Southern
                 Jewish belle jokes. We know these people. We know how they
                 should sing.

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