See “Parade” and Gain Understanding
By Skip Sheffield
It sounds like a rather dubious premise for a musical. Man is unjustly accused of a heinous murder. Same man is exonerated of charges, yet falls victim to bigoted vigilantes.
Surprise, “Parade” has its lovely and loving moments and is always riveting entertainment. Slow Burn Theatre presents this little-known 1998 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical through Feb. 9 at West Boca Raton High School Auditorium.
The book, by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, is based on the true-life incident that rocked Atlanta in 1913. A man named Leo Frank, who managed a pencil factory, was accused of raping and murdering one of his employees, a girl named Mary Phagan. She was just short of her 14th birthday. Thanks to an over zealous, politically ambitious prosecutor named Hugh Dorsey and an anti-Semitic newspaper writer named Tom Watson, the proudly Jewish Leo Frank was railroaded into a guilty verdict.
That was not the end of the misfortune that befell Leo Frank, as playwright Alfred Uhry and composer Jason Robert Brown meticulously recount in words and music.
“Parade” ran just 84 performances on Broadway, but courageous regional theater companies such as Slow Burn have breathed new life into the show. “The Parade” is indeed a show, directed and choreographed with compassion and understanding by Patrick Fitzwater, with precise musical accompaniment of challenging songs by Manny Schvartzman, lighting by Lance Blank, sets by Sean McClelland and costumes by Rick Pena.
Equity professional Tom Anello stars as Leo Frank, and in her first major starring role Ann Marie Olson plays his loyal wife Lucille.
The mood is set with the “Prologue: The Old Red Hills of Home.” The parade of the title is to honor Confederate soldiers. These folks are proud of their rebel heritage, and they don’t much cotton to Jew boys from New York City like Leo Frank. Though Lucille is also Jewish, she is a daughter of the South. Despite her best diplomatic efforts she cannot overcome the blind bigotry and hatred of Southerners still bitter about losing the Civil War.
Though the plot is dire, there are rays of light and hope in some of the tender ballads sung beautifully by Leo and Lucille and the marvelous Slow Burn chorus.
Slow Burn co-artistic director Matthew Korinko plays the role of despicable villain Hugh Dorsey. He does not make him a cardboard villain, but himself a victim of blind ambition.
Even more villainous is hate-mongering writer Tom Watson, played by Rick Pena doing triple duty. The always entertaining Jerel Brown also does triple duty in three widely contrasting roles.
The good news about the Leo Frank-Mary Phagan tragedy is that it led to the founding of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. The local ADL in fact held a talk-back after the first Sunday matinee.
Though it is dark and challenging, “Parade” is educational and provocative. It is yet another amazing show done by one of most daring, resourceful theater companies in South Florida.
Tickets are $40 adults, $35 seniors and $25 students. Call 866-811-4111.