As a Jew, I don’t really need to be reminded of the antisemitism rapidly sweeping this country again. But even if this terrifying trend wasn’t happening, watching the current revival of the 1998 musical “Parade,” now at Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, would have been more than enough to make me take heed of the age-old notion that those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Take note, though: “Parade” is not just the timeliest show in town, it’s one of the most theatrically satisfying. The show is brilliantly staged by Michael Arden, with the action mostly set on a raised box (set by Dane Laffrey) and superb projections (by Sven Ortel) placed behind it to give us much-needed information on time and place. Most importantly, it is exquisitely acted and sung by over two dozen of our finest actors, led by the equally extraordinary Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond.
The musical, which features a superb book by Pulitzer Prize winner Alfred Uhry and a gorgeous score by Jason Robert Brown, uses the true story of Leo Frank (Platt) as its focal point. A New York Jew, somewhat bookish and remote, Leo lives in early 20th-century Georgia with his seemingly mousy (and also Jewish) wife Lucille (Diamond). Much to Lucille’s dismay, Leo almost takes perverse pride in how he refuses to adapt to Southern mores.
That behavior is just one reason when teenager Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle) is found dead in the pencil factory that Leo supervises – and where he was working on Confederate Memorial Day – that he is immediately named as the prime suspect. So is his religion. It’s no surprise, then, that despite what is obviously manufactured evidence by sleazy prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (a pitch-perfect Paul Alexander Nolan), Leo is quickly convicted and sentenced to death.
In a stunning sequence that takes up much of the first act, we see how Dorsey “twists” the recollections of everyone from the Franks’ African American maid Minnie (Danielle Lee Graves) and factory janitor Joe Conley (a scene-stealing Alex Joseph Grayson) to Mary’s impressionable young friend Frankie Epps (a wonderful Jake Pedersen). And when Mary’s distraught mother (an affecting Kelli Barrett) yells “Jew” at the end of her testimony, it cuts through us like a knife.
Leo’s case also helps further the ambitions of religious newspaperman Tom Watson (a chilling Manoel Felciano), overeager reporter Britt Craig (a sublime Jay Armstrong Johnson), and, eventually, Dorsey himself who chooses to run against the state’s current Governor, the more level-headed Jack Slaton (an excellent Sean Allan Krill), who commutes Leo’s death sentence after being egged on by Lucille to further investigate the case. Of course, since we know Leo’s ultimate fate, we also know this is a short-lived “victory.”
The show’s second act, far different than the first, illustrates the evolving relationship of the Franks while Leo is in prison. One cannot underestimate how wonderful it is to have Platt back on a New York stage, showing off both his rarely seen comic chops (“Come Up to My Office”) and better-known dramatic ones (“This Is Not Over Yet”), along with his remarkable ability to completely transform himself into a new character.
Diamond is indelibly moving as she realizes that she is no mere Southern belle and that her husband’s fate is firmly in her hands. She superbly puts over her big solos, “You Don’t Know This Man” and “Do It Alone,” and shines alongside Platt in the beautiful love ballad “All the Wasted Time.”
Indeed, even if we lived in a time of total harmony, “Parade” would be worth reviving just to hear Brown’s breathtaking score, which also includes such showstoppers like “Real Big News” and “That’s What He Said” to delicate melodies like “Pretty Music” and rousing anthems like “The Old Red Hills of Home.”
And yet, the most powerful “song” in the show is the one Brown didn’t write: the Hebrew prayer “Shema Yisrael,” gorgeously sung by Platt in his final moments. It affirms the belief in the wisdom of God, which Leo manages to find despite everything. I’m not sure all of us can do the same.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Ben Platt, Micaela Diamond, Alex Joseph Grayson, Sean Allan Krill, Howard McGillin, Paul Alexander Nolan, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Kelli Barrett, Courtnee Carter, Eddie Cooper, Erin Rose Doyle, Manoel Felciano, Danielle Lee Greaves, Douglas Lyons, Jake Pedersen, Florrie Bagel, Stacie Bono, Max Chernin, Emily Rose DeMartino, Christopher Gurr, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ashlyn Maddox, Sophia Manicone, William Michals, Jackson Teeley and Charlie Webb. The company’s swings will be Harry Bouvy, Tanner Callicutt, Bailee Endebrock, Caroline Fairweather, Prentiss E. Mouton, Aurelia Williams
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036