The musical "Parade" at the IU Theatre is based on the grim story of the murder of an Atlanta factory girl, little Mary Phagan in 1913, the trial of the factory manager, Leo Frank and his lynching in a storm of anti semitic, anti northern rage. The play is by Alfred Uhry who also wrote two earlier plays about Atlanta Jews, "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Last Night of Ballyhoo." The lyrics and music are by theatre newcomer Jason Robert Brown.
The IU Theatre production is handsomely presented with evocative sets by Jared H. Porter, striking costumes by Robbie Stanton and atmospheric lighting by Robert Shakespeare. Choreography and direction by George Pinney pulls out the stops as characters and scenes move in units, freeze in sections and smoothly shift from cheerfully choreographed pieces into macabre dances.
Vince Lee conducted with a nice feel for pace and tempo. On occasion words and even sentences from the stage were lost, but I have a feeling that some mysterious dead spots were more the cause than any problems from the pit.
Kate Lindsey’s acting as Leo Frank’s wife, Lucille, was brilliant and the tension that she was able to maintain even in the lower ranges of her voice was impressive. John Armstrong handled the part of Leo from his nerdy beginnings to his growth in the second act with real skill. Frankly, he seemed so out of place that Colin Donnell’s first appearance as a rubber legged, Jim Carey, sort of comic newspaper reporter was more surprising than pleasant, but his appearances came to be welcome little breathing spots in the heavy drama. Heath Calvert was properly detestable as Hugh Dorsey, the District Attorney who frames Leo Frank. Neil Darling was initially flexible enough and later noble enough as Governor Slaton, who honestly investigated the case. Nick Simpson was a crowd pleaser as the flexible Jim Conley who’s testimony convicted Frank.
Leo Frank was lynched in Marietta, Georgia. There’s a memorial plaque there that reads "Wrongly accused. Falsely convicted. Wantonly murdered." Playwright Alfred Uhry’s own family was intimately involved with the people of the Leo Frank case, but the tale of hate was never talked about. With some infections old time doctors would actually encourage a boil to grow until it was ripe for lancing. Perhaps Uhry thought that allowing this story to grow into a play and then a musical might have some of the same effects.. This may be an exorcism.
The IU Theatre production of Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s "Parade" plays each evening through Saturday.