Sitting down to write this review of Parade, the one word I can’t get out of my head is “injustice”. As I watched this fabulous production about a man arrested and charged for a crime he did not commit in 1913, my mind couldn’t help but think about the similar events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. Now the cases of Leo Frank and Michael Brown aren’t exactly the same, but the general themes are there: a man is unjustly killed for committing no crime, but rather is a victim of prejudice and racism. The Front Porch Theatricals’ production of Parade is coming around at a convenient time, showing us how much (or how little) things have changed in one hundred years.
Parade tells the real story of Leo Frank (Jesse Manocherian), a factory superintendent who is charged with the assault and murder of one of his 13-year old employees, Mary Phagan (Alexandra Illescas). While Leo is innocent, the town quickly turns on him on the basis that he is Jewish. As Leo is imprisoned, his wife Lucille (Daina Michelle Griffith) works tirelessly to help his case and prove his innocence to everyone.
The dark subject material is accompanied by a fantastic bluesy score, which is performed excellently by the talented cast. Joe Jackson is fine as the gentlemanly Governor Slaton, but he is fantastic as the smarmy reporter Britt Craig, whose sleezy ragtime number “Real Big News” was one of my favorite moments. Casey Cott was particularly great as Mary’s mourning suitor Frankie in her funeral number, “It Don’t Make Sense”, singing with real heartbreak. The same can be said for Becki Toth, who played Mary’s mother and delivered powerful sad moments in the abovementioned song and in her testimony song at the trial, “My Child Will Forgive Me”.
The whole trial scene at the end of Act 1 is excellent, particularly the end when Jim Conley (Justin Lonesome) tells the court his fabricated tale of how he helped Leo cover up the crime. All of Lonesome’s numbers in the show are a musical highlight, his powerful voice doing justice to the blues chain gang number “Feel the Rain Fall” and “Rumblin’ and Rollin’”, a mocking duet between two black servants about how nobody ever makes a fuss when a black man is hanged (the other servant is played by Arica Jackson, who does an excellent job here as well).
Manocherian and Griffith bring chemistry and beautiful voices to the Franks. Griffith sings Lucille’s ballads with great emotion, while Manocherian is simply wonderful as Leo. He starts off as quietly charming, a fish out of water who is surrounded by people he doesn’t understand. As the show goes on, Leo’s life gets turned upside-down, and Manocherian shows us all the fear, nervousness, and frustations this man is going through. A particular highlight is the trial fantasy sequence “Come Up to My Office” where Leo abruptly switches from mousy and rigid to downright lecherous as he creepily prances around the stage. The montage duet “This is Not Over Yet” between the Franks in Act 2 is also beautifully done, a welcome bit of optimism for the characters who need it most.
Given the many different locations there was very little scenery up in the New Hazlett Theater. Good use of the stage was made anyway, but to me it felt like there could have been a bit less emptiness on the stage. There definitely could have been less fog, since the machine is running on full blast the moment you enter the house. I understand the use of fog, helping lighting angles be seen or maybe just setting the general feel for the show (it starts with a flashback). However, I kept wiping off my glasses because I thought they were dirty (a safe bet) but it was just the fog flooding the entire space.
Front Porch Theatricals has delivered a really great production of a really great show, and I highly recommend you checking it out. Like I said earlier, this production came about at a time when a country needs to be reminded that things like prejudice are still causing innocent lives to be lost. It’s an important message to get across, and with Parade that message comes with excellent work by the cast, crew, and a fantastic musical score. Go see it.
Presented by Front Porch Theatricals LLC
@ The New Hazlett Theater
Directed by Benjamin Shaw
Written by Alfred Uhry (book), Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics)
Designed by Gianni Downs (set), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Dave Bjornson (sound), Kenneth Chu (costumes)
Starring Jesse Manocherian (Leo Frank), Diana Michelle Griffith (Lucille Frank), Casey Cott (Frankie), Molly Griggs (Sally Slaton), Alexandra Illescas (Mary Phagan), Arica Jackson (Minnie McKnight), Amanda Leigh Jerry (Iola), Joe Jackson (Gov. Slaton/Britt Craig), Wali Jamal (Newt Lee), Erich Lascek (Judge Roan), Michael Leadbetter (Luther Rosser), Sean Lenhart (Hugh Dorsey), Justin Lonesome (Jim Conley), Matthew J. Rush (Tom Watson), Kristin Serafini (Essie), Becki Toth (Mrs. Phagan).
Parade runs today (Aug 24th) and Thursday-Sunday (28th-31st). Tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to Front Porch Theatricals for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: August 22, 2014