Critic's PickThe powerful true story of a terrible miscarriage of justice in 1913 Atlanta is the subject of the musical Parade. Confederate Memorial Day parades frame the show and also represent the lockstep of hatred and anti-Semitism that caused an innocent man, Leo Frank, a Jew from Brooklyn, to be railroaded to a guilty verdict following the murder of a 13-year-old girl employed at the factory he managed. When his execution was commuted, an angry crowd kidnapped and lynched him.
Jason Robert Brown wrote music and lyrics for Parade, featuring more than a dozen well-drawn characters. It’s an ideal piece for musical theater students from UC’s respected College-Conservatory of Music in a studio production presented by the Carnegie in Covington. Although characters’ age range across a considerable spectrum, the actors credibly portray young and old.
In particular, their vocal skills feast on Brown’s music.
As Leo Frank, Collin Kessler conveys his character’s alienation from his Southern neighbors as well as his fear of misunderstanding; in scenes where the fantastic imaginings of perjured witnesses are enacted, Kessler’s multifaceted talent as singer, actor and dancer are evident. Jenny Hickman plays Frank’s wife Lucille, using her powerful contralto to evolve from dissatisfied wife to committed advocate and finally loving partner for her doomed husband. In “All the Wasted Time,” their deep emotion and sadness are palpable.
Matt Hill gives a conniving, snide air to prosecuting attorney Hugh Dorsey, and Nathaniel Irvin is a rabble-rousing racist firebrand. Charlie Meredith is an unscrupulous journalist, and Noah Ricketts is the janitor whose lies condemn Frank. Kameron Richardson and Raven Thomas open Act II with a soulful duet, “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’,” cynically speculating about such a case if the victim had been an African American. As the murdered girl’s mother, Sarah Bishop has a heart-rending moment of testimony.
Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll have staged Parade using a set of multi-level platforms, backed by window-like frames with a glowing image of a spreading tree. Various scenes are created simply using chairs. Steve Goers conducts a six-piece band beneath the stage but amplified clearly and cleanly into the theater.
Parade tells a wrenching tale of hatred, but this moving production transcends that awful truth to present a life-affirming love story.
PARADE, presented by The Carnegie in a co-production with CCM, continues through Sunday, April 21.