The Writers Theatre production of ‘Parade, a powerful, Tony Award-winning musical about the wrongful conviction and death of a Jewish factory manager, is so well acted and sung that many audience members seemed to have bought the false witnesses’ stories.
They must have believed the manager was guilty because there were gasps from the show’s opening night audience when in the second act the stories turned out to be no more than lies coached by a prosecutor with an eye on the governorship.
The story is a true tale of how Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew, is deliberately convicted and killed for the rape and death of a young Atlanta, GA factory girl in 1913.
Although married to a lass Georgia born and bred, Frank was a Yankee and a Jew. He appeared cold and unfriendly and didn’t appreciate his wife in the beginning.
In the Writers Theatre production, sensitively directed by Gary Griffin, Patrick Andrews as Frank and Brianna Borger as wife Lucille, appear mismatched but it works.
Borger is nurturing, has a mature figure and a beautiful voice that soars as she sings “You don’t know the Man.” Eventually, she convinces her husband of her abilities and love and she convinces the governor of Frank’s innocence.
Andrews is slight, and for this part, does a fine job of looking somewhat nerdy and portraying a man who appears proud and standoffish.
Derek Hasenstab is excellent as Governor John Slaton who probes until he learns that the witnesses lied. He commutes Frank’s death sentence to life with the idea of a full pardon when sentiment is better.
But vigilantes pull Frank from his cell and hang him as he says the Sh’ma (Yisrael) praise of God.
Kevin Gudahl is very believable as the conniving trial prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey, who does become governor.
However, it is the commanding music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown sung by some terrific voices that moves the story from depressing to seat-riveting high drama. Brown won the Tony for Best Score and Alfred Uhry won Best Book when the show premiered on Broadway in 1998.
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as black worker Jim Conley does a great false-witness testimony in Act One and brings the house down with a chain-gang number in Act Two. Devin DeSantis shines as a young soldier singing “The Old Red Hills of (Home) Georgia” and as reporter Britt Craig. Indeed, there isn’t a weak performer in the cast.
The production also has a talented team in Musical Director Michael Mahler and Choreographer Ericka Mac.
‘Parade,’ a retelling of an historic 1913 event, continues to be relevant.
What has been called “American injustice,” happened in a Southern city still reeling from the Civil War. The populace disliked northerners. Many went along with vigilante justice and practiced bigotry. The factories employed child laborers and families went along with it because they needed the money.
Not a part of the musical, the event had far-reaching consequences. It led to the formation of the Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL later separated as an independent organization).
As an aside, I saw the production in January 2010 as a Northwestern University Dolphin musical when Allan Jacobs (husband), then B’nai B’rith Executive Chairman, moderated a talk-back discussion about prejudice after the show.
The production was directed by Scott Weinstein, an NU senior who has gone on to direct important shows in the Chicago area. In a 2010 Theatre Wire article about ‘Parade’s strength in the musical theatre lexicon Weinstein said, “…..its message of love in the face of bigotry and hatred is one that is screaming to be told right now today.”
I say amen.
Details; ‘Parade’ is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tufor Court, Glencoe, now through July 2. For tickets and other information call 847-242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.