Review: Parade – Hyde Park Herald

A scene from Parade now playing at the Writers Theatre in Nichols Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, Ill. through July 2. Michael Brosilow

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Where: Writers Theatre, Nichols Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe When: through July 2 Tickets: $35-$80 Phone: 847-242-6000

By ANNE SPISELMAN Theater Critic

Writers Theatre could not have assembled a better team for the production of Parade that closes its season, and the musical by Alfred Uhry (book) and Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics), co-conceived by Harold Prince, is every bit as timelyif not more sothan when it premiered on Broadway in 1998.

The subject is a true miscarriage of justice that happened more than a century ago but would not be out of the question today. In 1913, Leo Frank, the manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was accused of raping and murdering Mary Phagan, a thirteen-year-old employee. Although a night watchman was originally suspected, and a janitor likely committed the crime, Frank became the target because he was Jewish and a college-educated northerner from Brooklyn, New York. He was convicted and sentenced to hang, but the case caused outrage outside of the South, and Georgia Governor John Slaton re-examined the evidence and commuted the sentence to life in prison. Alas, Frank was kidnapped from the prison to which hed been transferred, taken to Phagans hometown of Marietta, GA, and lynched. Ironically, this led to both the revival of the KKK and the birth of the Jewish civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League.

Uhry and Brown, whose book and soaring sung-through score won 1999 Tony Awards respectively, shape the material to focus on two main themes: how the self-interest, ambition, venality, and prejudice of those involved caused what happened, and how the ordeal sparked the love between Leo and his wife, Lucille, and brought them closer together. Significantly, they begin with an American Civil War prologue in MariettaThe Old Red Hills of Homeshowing a young Confederate soldier going off to fight, then returning years later as a crippled old man preparing to march in the Confederate Memorial Day parade. This memorial day (April 26) marks important moments in the story, starting with Frankwho reveals his discomfort at being a Jewish Yankee in the South in How Can I Call This Home?deciding to go into work on the holiday rather than on a picnic with Lucille, who is Jewish but an assimilated Atlanta native.

Directed by Gary Griffin, who also directed a 2015 concert version in New York, Writers intimate show spotlights the couples changing relationship. Cannily cast to highlight their physical differences and real-life counterparts, Patrick Andrews short, thin, edgy Leo and Brianna Borgers taller, fuller Lucille are a study in contrasts, and she initially bemoans the state of their marriage and her unfulfilled life in Leo At Work/What Am I Waiting For? A deliberately far-from-perfect hero, he comes across as a self-involved workaholic who takes his wife for granted and thinks he can do everything himself. He wants her to be at the trial (shes reluctant) because her absence will make him look guilty, but even after hes convicted and his appeals go nowhere, he tells her not to intercede on his behalf. His attitude starts to change when she has some success, bringing renewed hope in their song This Is Not Over Yet and a full expression of love in All the Wasted Time, when they believe he will soon be free.

Lucilles courage and determination in supporting Leo and taking on the powers that be are a centerpiece of the show, and Borger, a splendid singer and actor, is more than up to the task. Shes the one who gets Governor Slaton (Derek Hasenstab) to look at the case anew at the cost of his own careertelling him hes a fool or a coward if the doesnt realize it was riggedand the challenges are formidable. Besides exposing the communitys general antisemitism, racism, and penchant for mob action, Uhry and Brown detail specific instances of corruption.

The prosecutor, smarmy Hugh Dorsey (Kevin Gudahl), is especially egregious. He trumps up false evidence on all fronts, from coaching Phagans female coworkers to give identical accounts of inappropriate sexual behavior on Leos part to offering escaped-convict janitor Jim Conley (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, whose Blues: Feel the Rain Fall brings down the house) immunity in a previous case if he testifies that he witnessed the murder and helped Frank cover it up. Dorsey later maneuvers to become governor in the wake of Slatons change of heart, getting support from Judge Roan (Larry Adams) and right-wing extremist newspaperman Tom Watson (Jeff Parker). Even ordinary local reporter Britt Craig (Devin DeSantis) is delighted by the trial, the Big News thats bound to make his career, and he slants his coverage accordingly.

While Frankie Epps (Jake Nicholson) wants revenge for the death of his sweetheart, others, such as the Franks maid Minola Minnie McKnight (Nicole Michelle Haskins), have more complicated motives for not telling the truth. Browns songs, used entirely to further the action, draw on pop-rock, blues, folk, gospel, and other American genres to cover the range of reactions. In a particularly telling second-act opener, A Rumblin and a Rollin, the African American domestics Angela and Riley (Haskins and Jonah D. Winston) wonder if the northern objections to Franks conviction would have been as strong if the victim had been black.

Under the musical director of Michael Mahler, the small unseen orchestra and large ensemble (with some doubling) are in fine form, though they seem to be singing to the back of the house, because almost everything sounded a bit too loud in the front row. Ericka Macs choreography is effective though not extravagant, and the designscenery by Scott Davis, costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, lighting by Christine Binder, sound by Ray Nardellicontributes to a Parade you dont want to miss and wont soon forget.

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Review: Parade – Hyde Park Herald

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