'Parade's' captivating music makes a statement
By Daryl H. Miller, Times Staff Writer
September 17, 2003

Music speaks straight to the heart, making it a powerful medium through which to address serious topics. Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan used it to address racism in 1949's "South Pacific." A half century later, another musical theater team returned to that topic in "Parade."

As their subject, writer Alfred Uhry, director Harold Prince and emerging composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown turned to the lynching of a Jewish man, Leo Frank, in the emotional aftermath of a 13-year-old girl's murder in 1913 Atlanta. Their show opened in late 1998 and earned admiring reviews as well as Tony awards for best score and book. The show failed, however, to advance to Broadway after a 10-week engagement at New York's Lincoln Center, and it has yet to receive a full, professional staging in Southern California.

This week, though, the area is getting a good look at "Parade" in a semistaged concert by the Musical Theatre Guild. An enthusiastically received presentation Monday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale will be followed by two performances Sunday at Scherr Forum in Thousand Oaks.

Rarely does such captivating music send so many shivers along the spine. Time and again, enthusiasm swells in Brown's evocations of hymns, folk, blues, ragtime and jazz, only to reveal a dark undercurrent in lyrics that suggest the racism bubbling in America's melting pot.

The show's message was powerfully conveyed Monday by a 34-member cast under Calvin Remsberg's direction. Performers carried scripts for reference; scene-setting was left largely to Shon LeBlanc's period costumes and the artful arrangement of benches, chairs and balustrades. In the pit, Steven Smith led a tight 11-piece ensemble.

Based on a real-life incident, the musical is framed by Atlanta's Confederate Memorial Day parade. On the day that it was held in 1913, young Mary Phagan was murdered at the pencil factory where she worked. Suspicion quickly fell on Frank, the factory supervisor. His tragic fate becomes a cautionary tale about racism and false patriotism.

Among the gripping moments is a love song laced with revenge as fresh-faced Erik Altemus mourns Mary in "It Don't Make Sense."

Not everything is gloomy, however, for "Parade" is also the story of a man coming alive in the face of death as well as a demonstration of love's power to conquer all.

Misty Cotton delivers the stirring "You Don't Know This Man," in which Frank's wife, Lucille, rises to loving, impassioned defense. Later, hope takes flight as she and Ira Denmark, as Frank, twine their voices in "This Is Not Over Yet" and "All the Wasted Time."

Sunday's performances will be the same as Monday's, except with only five instrumentalists.

Back to The Old Red Hills of HOME