Tuesday, April 18, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Parade" at the Barnard B. Jacobs Theatre

Show*: 5

Title: Parade

Location: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Written By: book by Alfred Uhry, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown

Summary: A revival of the winner of the 1999 best book and score Tonys, based on the true story of a Jewish man in Atlanta wrongly accused of murder and lynched by a mob.

Highlights: Jason Robert Brown's score is gorgeous, haunting, and unsettling. As always he perfectly captures the emotions of the story in music. And the story of Leo Frank is a dark one. A Jewish man from Brooklyn who married a local woman and ran a pencil factory in Atlanta, he was an easy scapegoat when a 14-year old girl who worked at the factory was found dead in the basement. Politicians used the case to further their career, using the anti-semitism of the community and promising to "clean up" the South, and witnesses were bribed to falsify testimony. Leo was convicted by "a jury of his peers," and when the governor eventually commuted his death sentence to a life sentence after re-examining evidence, an angry but well organized mob kidnapped him from prison, transported him to the girl's hometown, and hung him from a tree. A brutal subject for a musical, but a timely and important one with the recent rise of anti-semitism. Ben Platt (Evan Hansen all grown up) is as good as expected, a beautiful and sober performance both vocally and emotionally. As Leo's wife Lucille, his staunch defender, Micaela Diamond is a great match, with a gorgeously strong voice full of emotion. The whole cast is fantastic, many of them playing unlikable characters. The raised platform on the stage puts the main action on display, with the cast often sitting in chairs around it. The stage is decorated with early 20th Century Americana, and also a few Confederate flags - disturbing to see (the show opens during the Civil War, showing the history of bigotry in the South). As each character is introduced, the historical figure's name and photo is displayed on the back wall of the theater, reminding us that this is a true story.

Seeing Parade is a beautiful and highly emotional experience. This is not a show to see to forget the problems of the day, but rather to take a square look at the often disturbing history of this country, and how that history is reflected in the present. e.g., a Neo Nazi group protested the first preview of this show - 110 years later and this ugliness still exists in our country. The power of this show is that it gives emotion and humanity to this story that Jason Robert Brown calls "a signal event in the history of antisemitism and white supremacist terrorism in this country, and the case was behind both the creation of the Anti-Defamation League and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan." What better subject for music-theater to shine a light on?

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.