Writers Theatre Presents PARADE Review- A Gripping Education
Instead of inviting us to sit back and enjoy the show, the recorded announcement for PARADE, at Writers Theatre, tells us to lean forward and engage. This turns out to be apt advice. PARADE, a musical inspired by an infamous criminal case, is a gripping journey and a disturbing education.
With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by DRIVING MISS DAISY author Alfred Uhry, PARADE rapidly unspools its tragic tale. When the body of a 13-year-old girl is found in the basement of an Atlanta pencil factory in 1913, its Northern Jewish manager is falsely accused of the murder. Back then, racism lived blatantly on the surface of Southern society but anti-Semitism dwelled a mere layer below.
Writers Theatre’s Production Puts the Case in Context
Superbly directed by Gary Griffin, PARADE puts the Leo Frank case in context, introducing us first to the Southern soil in which it flourished. A young soldier sets off during the Civil War to defend the Confederacy. In the opening number, “The Old Red Hills of Home,” he conveys profound love for Georgia, not a thirst for battle.
The stage swells with patriotism – visually, musically and theatrically – for a country below the Mason-Dixon line that never happened. Flash forward 50 years to 1913: An economically-backwards Atlanta still smolders with rage towards the North and celebrates Confederate Memorial Day with more fervor than the Fourth of July.
Why, asks protagonist Leo Frank, would anyone celebrate losing a war? This Brooklyn Jew, who has relocated to Atlanta, cannot fathom the regional mindset. His Southern Jewish wife Lucille, warmly played by Brianna Borger, remains a stranger. But as he distances himself from the local population – white and black, Christian and Jewish -- he misses how much he has alienated them.
PARADE Probes Connections
It is by turns hugely entertaining and deeply troubling to follow Leo’s transition from arrogant crank to desperate victim, a process that actor Patrick Andrews does not sentimentalize. When a corrupt district attorney (Kevin Guhdahl) needs to build a case quickly, he finds it easy to persuade poor workers to fabricate evidence against their employer. Even the blacks in PARADE are more insiders than college-educated Leo; they know how to hide anger behind an obliging exterior. A marvelous number, “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’” between the governor of Georgia’s maid (Nicole Michelle Haskins) and butler (Jonah Winston) lays out the rules of a game that eludes Leo.
The historical facts behind PARADE leave little room for joy. An egregious miscarriage of justice, Leo Frank’s trial gained national attention, exposed the persistent divide between America’s North and South and resulted in mob brutality. But the show finds its heart in Leo and Lucille’s marriage. A “mousy” and underestimated woman, Lucille defies Leo’s low opinion and asserts herself to save him. Finally, the man discovers who he has married. She grows, Leo responds, and the newfound love between them becomes PARADE’s ultimate reward.
Now through July 2nd
Tuesdays - Fridays at 7:30 PM
Saturdays at 3:00 & 7:30 PM
Sundays at 2:00 & 6:00 PM
Wednesday matinees at 3:00 PM on June 14 & 28
325 Tudor Court
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning, Emmy-nominated playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre.