note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey
If you didn’t get to New York to see the Tony award winning musical, PARADE, this may be your only chance. The Alfred Uhry / Jason Robert Brown / Hal Prince collaboration is so operatic in scope and style that it’s not likely to be mounted here again any time soon. The astonishing SpeakEasy production (at the Boston Center for the Arts through June 10) has assembled twenty-nine of Boston’s best singing actors (and nine musicians) to tell the harrowing story of murder and miscarriage of justice in Georgia at the turn of the century.
The musical is based on the historical figure of Leo Frank, a Northern Jew wrongly accused of the murder of a fourteen year old girl working in the Atlanta factory he managed for his in-laws. The surge of anti-Semitism which surrounded the case eventually led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.
The title of the musical may suggest a happy family outing but this PARADE is no day at the park. There is a parade of the usual kind at the start of the musical, to commemorate the town’s Civil War sacrifices of a half century earlier—but the celebration only serves to rekindle an abiding hatred of Northerners like Leo Frank. Then there is the parade of witnesses who perjure themselves to insure Frank’s conviction. The whole town seems to conspire against the soft-spoken, unassuming outsider. You soon discover that this is not your mother’s musical. There are no lively, “feel good” production numbers, no catchy tunes to hum on the way home, no showy dancing---just relentless injustice and tragic consequences.
Director Paul Daigneault’s cast is exemplary: From Brendan McNab’s idealistic Leo Frank to Bridget Beirne’s righteous Lucille Frank, whose courageous efforts to save her husband almost succeed. From Kerry Dowling’s forgiving, grieving mother to David Krinitt’s ruthless prosecutor to Edward M. Barker’s chilling turn as a calculating ex-con; From Austin Lesch’s spirited teen romeo to Paul Farwell’s riveting triple-play as crusty old coots.
The closest thing to a rousing showstopper in PARADE is Timothy John Smith’s spectacular, sardonic “Big News.” There’s not much comedy in this sad commentary on malignant, Southern, white intolerance but Smith is a breath of fresh air as the wiseacre journalist sniffing out a story. Jerry Slattery, too, gives a wry, sly performance as Leo Frank’s blundering attorney.
Eric Levenson’s set is an ingenious use of the small BCA space, with banners reaching back to suggest more area and a stately old tree which sometimes stands unnoticed and sometimes looms as a warning. Stacey Stephens’ costumes, especially for Lucille Frank, are period chic. José Delgado’s orchestra is itself a character, reappearing as a foreboding military drum tattoo, to remind us that catastrophe is just around the corner.