Transitioning from the relatively peaceful Clinton era to the turbulent and precarious contemporary landscape of mobs, deceit, and political chaos, the once-celebrated yet short-lived musical “Parade” has seized the spotlight again with a brilliant revival on Broadway.
- ‘One Piece’ Production Designer Shares Which Set Is His Favorite
- Tyler Posey Joins Cast of MTV’s ‘The Surreal Life’ Alongside Kim Zolciak, Chet Hanks and More
- ‘Cobra Kai’s Creators Set Their New Special Forces Team Into Action in First ‘Obliterated’ Images
- Here’s How ‘Justified: City Primeval’ Landed That Incredible Season Finale Cameo
- ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘The Twilight Zone,’ and Many Hitchcock Films Share This Secret Ingredient
A decade after its initial debut on Broadway in 1998, where it garnered awards but fell short in terms of longevity, the musical underwent a significant transformation under the direction of Rob Ashford at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 2007. This revamp not only provided the challenging production with a more robust structure but also breathed new life into its dark subject matter.
The highly praised gala presentation at New York City Center last fall further built upon these enhancements, delivering a production that was stark and searing—a passion play replete with sweeping gestures, moral teachings, and unflinching condemnations. It underscored the work’s status as an indispensable American epic that resonates profoundly with our contemporary era. Now gracing Broadway, the production fearlessly paints on a vast national canvas, traversing from its Civil War prologue to its thought-provoking modern-day conclusion.
A magnificent ensemble of 26 voices, accompanied by a rich orchestra, brings to life Jason Robert Brown’s ambitious and consistently captivating music—a creation from his early 20s. The musical score spans a wide spectrum of American music, encompassing Southern laments, heartfelt love ballads, charming songs, and anthems of hope. It seamlessly incorporates musical genres such as gospel, blues, jazz, and even Broadway.
Yet, the question remains: will audiences embrace a disquieting yet enthralling musical that confronts issues of racism, antisemitism, and injustice, culminating in a lynching?
In the realm of theater, context and artistic finesse are paramount. Here, Jason Robert Brown, along with the book writer Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Last Night at Ballyhoo”) and director Michael Arden (“Spring Awakening,” “Once on This Island”), skillfully reshape this tragic narrative, infusing it with heightened significance and theatrical craftsmanship.
Despite the disquieting nature of the narrative, there are interludes of charm, wit, and even a spirited razzmatazz performance that serves as a reprieve from the heaviness of grief, outrage, and the lingering specters of history.
Adding to the production’s allure is the star power of Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”), delivering a breathtaking performance as Leo Frank. Frank, a Brooklyn Jew wrongly accused, tried, and convicted of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan (played by Erin Rose Doyle), an employee at the Atlanta pencil factory where Frank serves as superintendent.
Frank is not inherently sympathetic, yet the inherently likable Platt fully embraces the character’s formality, imperiousness, and insensitivity, infusing just a hint of wry humor (“How Can I Call This Home”). He also captivates with a show-stopping fantasy sequence (“Come Up to My Office”). However, it’s in the vivid portrayal of his character’s emotional evolution in the second act that Platt truly shines, rendering Frank a multifaceted individual rather than a mere symbol.
In the role of Lucille, Frank’s overlooked Southern Jewish wife, the fantastic Micaela Diamond (“The Cher Show”) undergoes a compelling character arc that gains strength, if not fierceness, particularly in the impactful “You Don’t Know Him.” The deepening connection between the couple injects warmth into a narrative that is otherwise relentlessly cold. Their duets in the second act, namely “This Is Not Over Yet” and “All the Wasted Time,” elevate the production and anchor it in human terms.
A plethora of featured players each seize their moments in the spotlight, creating an abundance of riches for the audience to relish. Jake Pedersen charms as Mary’s young suitor in “The Picture Show” and delivers a devastating performance in “It Don’t Make Sense”; Jay Armstrong Johnson exudes oily charisma in “Real Big News”; while Courtnee Carter and Douglas Lyons provide a sharp fact-check perspective in “A Rumbling’ and a Rollin’.” Sean Allan Krill portrays the questioning Georgia governor with smooth command and decency, perfectly delivering “Pretty Music”; Howard McGillin, as the presiding judge, edges toward madness in “The Glory”; and Alex Joseph Grayson lays it all on the line in “Feel the Rain Fall.”
Integral to this retelling is the presentational style of the show, a hallmark of City Center’s Encores! productions, serving as an asset that sharpens focus and consistently places the musical numbers at the forefront. This effect is enhanced by Heather Gilbert’s lighting, Susan Hilferty’s period costumes, and Jon Weston’s sound design.
The tri-level raised stage by Dane Laffrey maintains simplicity but proves effective in representing a diverse array of locales: factory offices, courtrooms, ballrooms, gravesites, prison cells, and ultimately, the gallows. Co-choreographers Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant infuse the sweep of history with grace and flair.
Sven Ortel’s projections of vintage photographs of the actual characters, settings, and headlines serve as a constant reminder of the real world and its factual history. This theatrically thrilling revival of “Parade” imparts lessons that remain relevant, drawing from a sinister past that continues to haunt us.