Also see Scott's recent review of Candide
The musical Parade was greatly admired by many during its Broadway premiere in 1998 and subsequent, yet brief, national tour. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that this serious and challenging piece would begin to receive regional mountings, and Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio presents one of the very first by a college program in the country. This dramatic show is capably produced and performed by WSU and delivers its powerful message with great theatrical skill.
Parade is based on the true story of Leo Frank, a northern Jew living in Atlanta in 1913, who is falsely accused of the murder of a young girl who worked at the pencil factory he managed. The show focuses partly on Frank's trial, his wife's diligent efforts to free him, and their search for justice despite bigotry, cultural differences, religious intolerance, and political motivations. However, of equal importance is the relationship between him and his wife Lucille, which only begins to blossom once he is imprisoned.
The score for Parade is by Jason Robert Brown, and it earned him the Tony Award for Best Score. Mr. Brown is a member of the new generation of younger composers many in the theater community look to as the future of Broadway, and he is surely one of the more accessible writers. His songs for Parade are intelligent and poignant in both words and music, while also being extremely tuneful and memorable (a statement which cannot always be made regarding his peers). Brown incorporates many styles in the score including southern anthems, marches, African-American spirituals, dixieland, waltzes, blues, and ballads. Highlights are "The Old Red Hills of Home", "Come Up To My Office", and "All The Wasted Time".
Alfred Uhry, known better for writing plays such as Driving Miss Daisy, provides an insightful and gripping book which likewise won him a Tony Award. A southerner himself, Mr. Uhry is able to realistically capture the true essence of the South. He tells a compelling story and uses several effective devices, including a few fantasy scenes to play out the false accusations made against Leo Frank. Uhry also wisely emphasizes the human tragedy within the plot, making it both a historical recreation and a love story. The lead characters change and grow during the course of the musical and are written with enough depth to allow the audience to care and invest in the outcome of their struggle.
Director Joe Deer renders a number of scenes quite differently than Broadway director Harold Prince, but is mostly successful with his choices. The appropriate dramatic tone of the piece remains intact, and the level of passion in each character, either of love or hatred, is effectively communicated. The minimal choreography (which is all that is really required) by Mr. Deer and cast member Kevin Leary works well. Musical Director Joseph Bates leads a competent seventeen-piece orchestra.
The thirty-five talented student cast members aptly portray the wide age range of characters and are anchored by some very talented performers in leading roles. Ian Rhodes sings with confidence and delivers a winning depiction of Leo Frank. For those readers familiar with previous productions of Parade, Mr. Rhodes' rendition is much closer to Broadway lead Brent Carver than that of tour Leo David Pitu, emphasizing the eccentric mannerisms of the character. As Lucille, Julie Marie Eberhart sings with clarity and great emotion, and is likewise effective in the role. Also giving exceptional performances are Patrick Bratton as Jim Conley and Damon Gravina as Britt Craig. Others worthy of special mention in the large cast include David Kotary (Frankie Epps), Lauren Finnan (Mary Phagan), Andrea Auten (Mrs. Phagan), and Billy Flood (Newt Lee).
The set design by Donald K. David likewise varies somewhat from the original production, using a raked stage to good effect. The large looming tree that is referenced frequently in symbolism throughout the piece is properly in place and is beautifully crafted. The period costumes by D. Bartlett Blair are attractive and Matthew Benjamin's lighting is professionally designed.
Parade has established itself as a well-written and solemn examination of one of the darker periods and settings in American history. Wright State University presents a solid production in one of the first of what will surely be many collegiate mountings of this moving musical. Parade continues at WSU through November 25, 2001 and tickets can be ordered by calling (937) 775-2500.