Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.
Ben Platt leads a stellar company in the New York City Center revival of Parade, a musical adaptation of the real-life story of Leo Frank. Featuring music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry, the musical depicts the allegations against and trial of a Jewish factory superintendent accused of murdering a young factory worker in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1913.
A searing commentary on religious and racial discrimination, dirty politics, child labor laws, and the post-Civil War South, Parade is not easy to watch. But with midterm elections looming, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and Georgia elections as heated as ever with Stacey Abrams trailing in the governor race and Marjorie Taylor Greene up to her usual antics, Parade feels even more relevant than when it premiered on Broadway in 1998.
No Tea, No Shade:
Platt won a Tony Award and audiences’ hearts for originating the title role in Dear Evan Hansen. (We don’t need to talk about the movie adaptation.) Since then, his career and personal life have taken off, with the hit series The Politician (returning for season 3), music career, and public romance with Noah Galvin. Under the direction of Michael Arden, who’s helmed stunning revivals of Once on This Island and Spring Awakening, Platt — nearly 30 years old — strides into adulthood.
Micaela Diamond, last seen on Broadway as Babe, the youngest incarnation of the pop superstar in The Cher Show, delivers a terrific counterpoint to Platt’s understated neurosis. Her Lucille Frank is a woman of growing conviction who eventually finds the strength to fight for her husband’s innocence, challenging then-governor John Marshall Slaton (a suave Sean Alan Krill) to reopen the case.
But the Franks aren’t one-dimensional victim-heroes. Lucille’s white entitlement emerges when she expects her servant Minnie (Danielle Lee Greaves) to pick up a dropped bobby pin. And when initially interrogated, Leo grotesquely scoffs at the insinuation that he may have lured young men as well as girls into his manager’s office. Though the implication is false, the accused’s homophobic shrug does not go unnoticed. It is, in fact, one of the most frightening aspects of Eurocentric patriarchal supremacy, which pits Blacks, Jews, LGBTQ folks, women, and other minorities against one another.
Lawyer Hugh Dorsey (an appropriately threatening Paul Alexander Nolan), who eventually served two terms as Georgia’s governor (1917-1921), takes the case and, after interviewing several suspects, including night watchman Newt Lee (Eddie Cooper,) says, “Hangin’ another nigr* ain’t enough this time. We gotta do better,” setting the stage for a series of false testimonies resulting in Frank’s conviction.
Scenic designer Dane Lafrey constricts most of the action to a postage-stamp-size dais that serves as the courtroom, Frank’s home, and other locales, flanked by benches and chairs often occupied by the ensemble looming over the action. Steep steps among the various stage levels make for some awkward transitions and limit choreographer Cree Grant’s sinister vaudevillian sequences. Projection designer Sven Ortel’s use of archival photographers contextualizes the action, adding a real-life chilling dimension to Leo’s story as the audience bears witness to one of Georgia’s most blatant legal travesties.
Let’s Have a Moment:
In 1913, at the time of Frank’s trial, a murder trial defendant was not permitted to testify on their own behalf (Georgia was the last state to reform this law). Instead, he can make a “statement” to the courtroom — not under oath or as a witness. With hunched shoulders baring the weight of what he knows will likely be a conviction, a bespectacled Leo sings…
“These people try to scare you
With things I’ve never said.
I know it makes no sense.
I swear I don’t know why …
I stand before you now … Incredibly afraid.
I pray you understand.” — Leo Frank, Parade
Leo’s call for compassion goes unheard. The verdict: guilty.
The Last Word:
“What I love about this Parade, and why I think I most wanted to direct it, is that it’s not as concerned with attributing guilt or innocence as it is examining how America’s cyclical traumatic history has so often distorted and weaponized the ideals of justice to which we pledge allegiance,” said director Arden in a recent interview. But he also sees glimmers of hope.
“In Parade, love is manifested in different ways: the love of justice, the love of country, the love of our fellow citizens,” Arden said. “I firmly believe that love is the inverse of fear.”
Parade plays at New York City Center through November 6.