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BROADWAY REVIEW: ‘Parade’ revival, about the lynching of a Jewish man, is a harsh indictment of the South


The usual recorded warning to silence cell phones is, in the new Broadway production of “Parade,” delivered by none other than a character like Raphael Warnock, the US Senator from Georgia.

Clearly, that’s an effort to acknowledge that while this grim, superbly scored Jason Robert Brown musical is about the prejudiced 1913 murder trial and subsequent lynching of a Jewish man, Leo Frank, in that Peach State in 1913, everyone involved knows he was black. Georgians who were much more likely to suffer that fate. And, of course, it is also a tacit statement that the racist forces of corruption and bigotry featured in the article are still very much at large.

The new revival, starring Ben Platt in the title role, is a more politically engaged “Parade” than I remember from more than 20 years ago, less a melancholy exploration of the clash of the cultural divide and more an explicit indictment of the Republicans of the south and its jingoistic, persistent and acrimonious loyalties to the remnants of the Confederacy, a hotbed of racism and anti-Semitism.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that Platt delivers a beautifully sung but unsympathetic performance in the title role. So much so, in fact, that he wondered if this enormously talented Broadway star had allowed all the noise to get to him.

There’s no question that Brown’s incarnation of Frank, a transfer from Brooklyn and the manager of an Atlanta pencil factory, is a troubled man, a lousy communicator who was often aloof, imperious, and self-centered. But the trajectory of the musical clearly suggests that he becomes more self-aware over time, finally seeing his own sexism and realizing that his southern-born wife, played by Micaela Diamond, could help him better than he can help himself. in addition.

Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt

In Act Two, Frank also realizes that few have ever looked down on racial hatred through bookish investigation, but rather by looking haters in the eye, finding allies in the fight against them, and forcing the ignorant to see our shared humanity.

In a nutshell, “Parade” has a lot to do with southern anti-Semitism, but it also has a protagonist who takes a journey to better understand both his world and himself.

Platt sounds spectacular and nothing he does feels fake. However, the Leo Frank of him seems very much like the end of the show at the beginning and just as remote. Perhaps that is indicative of the political change of the day, where any kind of change in such a character risks being seen as his capitulation to the forces of intolerance, although I think the book writer Alfred Uhry and composer Brown intended exactly the opposite.

Erin Rose Doyle and Jake Pedersen in "Parade."

All those years ago, as I watched the composer conducting the pit orchestra in Green Bay, Wisconsin, I am reminded of “Parade’s” impressive opening number, “The Red Hills of Georgia,” which originally came out as a lament for what the South he could have achieved if he had actually succeeded in overcoming his deep-seated sins of racism and bigotry. At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater the other night, the number, magnificently sung by an anonymous Confederate soldier (Charlie Webb) returning from the war, felt more like the fascist “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from “Cabaret.”

This is how America has gone for the past two decades and Broadway has had no choice but to choose sides.

But as they point out in “Hamilton”, history is not inevitable at the moment in which it is lived. And musicals are about humans, their triumphs and mistakes. So that disconnection, that lack of nuance, that absence of the pulse of possibility in the present tense and the sense that the world is only spinning forward, indicates the central flaw in this passionately realized but not quite sure production from director Michael Arden that uses powerful projections (created by Sven Ortel on the set of Dane Laffrey) to link the fictional characters we’re seeing with real-life historical figures.

Strong points here include a wonderful supporting performance from Kelli Barrett, who plays the mother of the murdered girl (“My Child Will Forgive Me” brought tears to my eyes) and also from Sean Allan Krill, who plays the governor of Georgia who finally he sees his obligation to the truth and the need to fight the malevolent prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey (Paul Alexander Nolan).

kelli barrett

And the most audacious work of the night flows from the spectacular Alex Joseph Grayson, who plays Jim Conley, the likely perpetrator of the crime Frank is blamed for. Conley’s large number is incredibly powerful. And there are some very powerful Diamond moments, even if the final, heartbreaking scenes with Platt don’t have, at least for me, the emotional impact I’ve experienced before on this show.

There’s nothing inevitable about “Parade,” any more than there was about America’s enduring bigotry. And that is the tricky thing about a show that has always inhabited a space between the melodramatic and the tragic. But the melodrama just confirms it. A richer understanding of the error of our collective ways always comes from tragedy.

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