After collecting Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Book two seasons ago, the much anticipated, 20-week national tour of Parade opens next Tuesday at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, and I had the great pleasure of speaking with bookwriter Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo) about the show and how it all came to be. [Note: the review is now available]
Harper Strom: Well, I guess the best place to start would be the very beginning: how did you first get involved with Parade?
Alfred Uhry: Iíve always known the story of Leo Frank. My motherís uncle, Sigmonde, owned the pencil factory where [the murder of Mary Phagan] happened, so itís always been a story thatís been known in my family. As a matter of fact, when I was a child, when anybody would mention Leo Frank, people of that generation would get up and walk out of the room, and I didnít know much about it; but I became fascinated with it, to find out what the hell was going on. Then one time I told the story to Hal Prince, and he said, ďMy God! Thatís the musical theatre piece Iíve been looking to do!Ē And thatís how it happened.
HS: How did Jason Robert Brown come into the picture?
AU: It was originally supposed to be Steve Sondheim, but Steve had just written a very serious musical called Passion and didnít want to do another serious musical. Jason had worked with Halís daughter Daisy, and she recommended him strongly. He did a couple of songs, and they were exactly as I saw it, so then it just came to be.
HS: Did your family have any certain reaction to your getting involved with this story?
AU: Yeah. I called up my mother and said, ďGuess what, Mother, Iím doing a musical with Hal Prince,Ē and she said, ďOh my God, itís Leo Frank.Ē It was a story that everybody, particularly Jews in the South, stayed away from because it was so horrible. But now, all these years later, it seems the time to do it.
HS: Are those feelings the reason that Parade didnít premier in Atlanta?
AU: It never was gonna, actually.
HS: So that was just a rumor?
AU: That was the rumor. We never had a firm offer to do it in Atlanta. Lincoln Center offered to do it. Itís a difficult piece. We always knew that we didnít have some good oleí high-kicker here; we had a real serious musical. Hal has done a lot of serious musical pieces, and if youíre going to do one of these things, I believe that heís the man to do it with. So we had the chance to do it at Lincoln Center, which we took, and we were lucky to get it. We won the Tonys and a lot of awards up here [in New York], and weíre very lucky to get a tour going out so quickly.
HS: Do you have any thoughts as to why it didnít do as well in New York as many people felt that it shouldíve?
AU: I know why. It was supposed to be a joint-venture between Lincoln Center and this producing office called Livent, the ones who did Ragtime. Right after we opened, Livent went belly-up, so they didnít have any money to put into it. Lincoln Center couldnít afford to run it by themselves, and thatís what happened to it. I mean, Hal and I went beating the bushes everywhere we could to get the money to keep it going, but we just couldnít get it in time.
HS: I also remember that it was quite an ordeal getting the score put down on disc.
AU: The whole thing was, yeah. But now, the CDís done great, so we were right to want to do it.
HS: It seems to be breaking out of the die-hard theatre community very well.
AU: Yeah! Well, you know, Jasonís a rock and roll boy, thatís his generation. This isnít old-fashioned theatre stuff at all. Iím just really happy that itís being done in the South.
HS: Iím certainly happy that weíll finally get to see it down here.
AU: To have it happen to quickly after our Broadway run is very unusual, and weíre very lucky. Iím very grateful to [producer] Chris Manos for wanting to do it. He feels, God bless his heart, that thereís a big audience for this in the South, and Iím with him.
HS: Since the tour features a relatively new cast and a year has gone by since the original run, will there be many differences in the show?
AU: Slightly. Anyone who doesnít know the show intimately wonít know the difference. We did a few things.
HS: Anything major, musically or dramatically? The staging?
AU: Just a few snips here and there. Nothing that you could ever pick out.
HS: Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me! Iím looking forward to the premier on June 13.
AU: Good! Iím just overjoyed that itís being done at the Fox.
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