Parade

People are divided on whether this is a great musical or a so-so musical.

By Andrew Andrews

Joshua Ezra and Dennis Wakeman in Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s musical Parade at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck. Original photos by Rachel Karashay.

True story: Leo Frank, the Jewish supervisor of an Atlanta pencil factory, was accused, tried and convicted of killing a 13-year-old female employee in 1913.

Although the only evidence against him was false testimony coerced out of other factory employees and a gut feeling by the local prosecutor, Frank was sentenced to death by hanging.

Two years later, Georgia governor John Slaton personally investigated the crime and determined that it was most likely committed by Frank’s supposed accomplice, the factory janitor Jim Conley.

Slaton commuted the sentence to life in prison, but public outrage fueled by newspaper sensationalism provoked a mob of prominent citizens to infiltrate the prison, capture Frank, and lynch him.

Frank’s story received national attention, and in addition to furthering tensions between northern and southern Americans, led to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League supporting Jewish civil rights.

A short-lived but award-winning Broadway musical, Parade tells Frank’s story beginning on the day of the murder and ending with his hanging.

The large cast is directed by Jovan Bradley for CenterStage productions, with band direction by Paul & Joanne Schubert.

If I had to think of one word to describe this musical, I might settle on the word perplexing.

Just as some of the most highly-rated wines aren’t very palatable to the masses, Parade has just about everything you’d expect from a great musical: a compelling (true!) story (albeit liberally embellished), catchy songs, a large cast and a likable protagonist.

That certainly explains why it received Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score as well as six Drama Desk Awards… but doesn’t explain why it lasted less than three months on Broadway.

Perhaps people are naturally just a little too uneasy about the subject matter. Maybe it’s because Frank, a supposed control freak, is presented as a victim of circumstance with no ability to remedy his own situation. Or it could be that the story lacks a strong point-of-view, preventing the audience from getting into the head of any one character.

Whatever the reason, Parade is a top-notch musical on paper, but not quite as riveting in practice.

I can’t blame this production specifically, which is at least on par with most I’ve seen at The CENTER, if not on the better side. My biggest complaint about the performance I caught is that the sound could have been mixed a little better: there were too many times when the lead vocalist was drowned out by the live band and/or the background harmonies of the ensemble.

Long-time readers know that I’m a big fan of a good value, and any time a competent cast of nearly two-dozen actors can pull off a well-written show on a nice set, backed by a live band for a very low price, I can’t help but rate the overall experience highly.

But as I said, Parade is a perplexing musical… so don’t be surprised if, like me, you leave the theatre wondering why you didn’t enjoy it quite as much as you think you should have.

4

Andrew Andrews attended Parade at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck on Friday, May 20, 2022 @ 8:00pm to write this review.