A musical that won Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Book clearly deserves our attention. This triumph marches forth here and now at the Playhouse, bringing us Alfred Uhry and Harold Prince’s powerfully disturbing re-telling of tragic real events with songs by Jason Robert Brown, striding and soaring, edgy and beautiful.
At the center stands the trial of Jewish northerner Leo Frank, accused of murdering a young girl in 1913 Marietta, Georgia where racial tensions, religious intolerance and political injustice were facts of life. Press sensationalism jeopardized the outcome.
The trial aroused anti-Semitic tensions in nearby Atlanta as well as other parts of Georgia. The events surrounding the investigation and the trial provoked the revival of the KKK but also gave rise to the Anti-Defamation League. Frank’s case became a major cause for northern liberals, who hadn’t taken much notice before of a Southern penchant for handing out harsh legal punishments to black people.
“It’s power lies not just in its fabulous score, blues numbers, spirituals and hymns,” said The Guardian, but that it “packs a real punch as it demonstrates a cruel truth: that individuals fall victim to societal pressures and political expediencies…using ambiguity rather than certainties. ” Issues as much alive today as they were in 1998 when this opened on Broadway.
In dramatizing the story, there is also emphasis on the evolving relationship between Leo and his wife Lucille. “The poignancy of the couple, who fall in love in the midst of adversity, is the core of the work. It makes the tragic outcome – the miscarriage of justice – even more disturbing, ” wrote Iris Fanger in the Christian Science Monitor./
Alfred Uhry grew up in Atlanta, and had personal knowledge of the Frank story; his great-uncle owned the pencil factory managed by Leo Frank. Uhry has written other Atlanta-set plays, Pulitzer Prize-winner Driving Miss Daisy and Tony winner The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Plus he garnered an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy. Uhry’s scripts regularly deal with Jewish people.
21-Tony winner Harold Prince, credited with sharing the conception of this musical with Uhry, has often collaborated with Stephen Sondheim.
Brown created songs on Broadway for, among others, The Last Five Years and the musical version of “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Expect to be moved.
Parade is performed Feb.9-March 11, Howard Drew Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse 6915 Cass St. Thurs (2/15, 2/22, 3/1, 3/8) Fri. Sat.: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $25-$42 http://www.omahaplayhouse.com/