When: Through July 18
Where: Bailiwick Repertory at the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport
Tickets: $30-$40
Call: (773) 325-1700

'Parade," the creation of Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy") and Jason Robert Brown ("The Last Five Years"), takes us to Atlanta in 1913. This is still very much the "Old South," as Confederate Army veterans continue to smolder with resentment, and lynchings are a not uncommon alternative to a justice system still rooted in corruption and racism.

The musical is based on the true story of Leo Frank (played here by the thin, intense Nicholas Foster), a Brooklyn Jew who moved to Atlanta to manage his uncle's pencil factory -- a place where where poor young teenage girls worked on the assembly line because child labor laws were hardly a local priority. A smart, serious, nervous man, Frank is determined to succeed, and to create a certain economic stability for his wife, Lucille (the clarion-voiced Amy Arbizzani), a wholly assimilated Southern Jew he married two years earlier. But he is like a fish out of water -- homesick, wary and uneasy, even prudish, in his relations with his wife.

When Mary Phagan (the apple-faced Amber Robbin) is found murdered in his factory's basement, the worst aspects of the society are unleashed. The politicians sense that the city is too enraged to settle for the hanging of "just another black man," although they could easily pin the blame on a night watchman. Instead, they frame Frank -- the Yankee, the Jew, the outsider, the interloper. And it is left to Lucille, who is emboldened and strangely liberated by the challenge of saving her husband, to seek justice. In the process, she and Leo (very much like the husband and wife in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods") find the connection and trust that has long been missing.

Reviewing the initial Bailiwick production of "Parade" a couple of months ago, my colleague Mary Houlihan eloquently observed: "In the best American musical tradition ('Show Boat,' 'Ragtime'), Brown's songs are a captivating mix of hymns, folk, blues, jazz and ragtime. Rarely do such songs send a shiver down the spine as these do. The lyrics reveal the explosive depths of a deep-seated racism set deep in the American psyche. It is truly an unsettling experience."

Under David Zaks' direction, the young but highly skilled cast of 30 (in itself a major coup for a small Off-Loop operation) creates a powerful group portrait with choral singing of great beauty. And there are especially fine portrayals by Jamie Axtell as the slick and dirty prosecuting attorney; Rus Rainear as the sincere but incompetent defense attorney; Sean Reid as the opportunistic reporter who does a hallucinatory vaudeville turn when the story breaks; Brannen Daugherty as Mary's slightly overzealous would-be boyfriend, and Gerald Richardson, a galvanic performer, as the black convict squeezed into lying.

The case of Leo Frank has never been entirely resolved, and this production might have injected just a bit more ambiguity and doubt into the mix. Yet in all other ways, this is a bold and moving production that makes the case for "Parade" having a prominent place in the American musical theater archives.

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