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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 3, 2022

Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt
Photo by Joan Marcus
For all the many truly fine cast members on stage for the New York City Center gala presentation of Parade, the evening assuredly belongs to the 1998 musical's composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown, who is on hand to conduct the stellar 24-person orchestra and to make sure every note fills the theater with a wall of sound for the more than 30 numbers he orchestrated with Don Sebesky. Great music, great singing, great performances all around. No doubt. But as for the production itself, under Michael Arden's direction, it is as subtle as a sledgehammer, and one that keeps pounding away for two-and-a-half hours.

Maybe, as is also true of the current Broadway revival of 1776, such in-your-face intensity is a reflection of the times in which we are living, where metaphoric sledgehammers are increasingly common in every form of media, and actual hammers are being used to attack the spouses of major politicians. But the true story that serves as the basis for Parade, a story that was shaped for the musical by playwright Alfred Uhry, is disturbing enough. A step backward (literally, as much of the action and all of the singing takes place as close to downstage as is possible when you have a cast of 27 sharing the space) would give the show and the audience some room to breathe.

Parade draws its narrative from the 1913 arrest, trail, conviction, and, ultimately, the lynching of Leo Frank (Ben Platt, breaking free at last from his Evan Hansen persona). He was charged with murdering a 13-year-old girl named Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle), who worked at the Atlanta pencil factory where Frank was the supervisor. Frank, the outsider, a New Yorker and a Jew, was, by all accounts, railroaded from start to end in a trial that was prosecuted by the politically ambitious Hugh Dorsey (portrayed with sleazy intensity by Paul Alexander Nolan). There were two other serious suspects, both Black men who worked at the factory. But, as the character of Dorsey puts it when he dismisses one of them, "Ah, let him go. Hangin' another nigra ain't enough this time. We gotta do better."

"Better," of course, refers to Frank, a man who asks in his very first number, "how can I call this home?" and who longs to be "back again in Brooklyn, back with people who look like I do, and talk like I do, and think like I do." True, he is married to a local Jewish woman, Lucille (Micaela Diamond, the emotional heart of the evening), but she is Georgia born and bred. What makes no sense to Leo is just the way it is for Lucille, until, of course, the unthinkable happens.

The Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
As far as the plot goes, it's pretty straightforward. Act I speeds us through the events leading up to and through the sham trial, while Act II opens some space for a hopeful turn, especially when Georgia's Governor John Slaton (played with thoughtful dignity by Sean Allan Krill) agrees to intervene just weeks ahead of Frank's scheduled execution. It is during this interlude that Leo is able to finally break free of the self-protective wall he has built around himself and recognize how much better "we" is than "I" and how much he has held back his heart from Lucille. Their 11 o'clock duet, "This Is Not Over Yet," is intended to be a showstopper, and as performed by Platt and Diamond, it most definitely is.

It is a magnificent moment, and yet it is not the only powerhouse number late in the show. Another is sung by Alex Joseph Grayson as Jim Conley, who was the factory's janitor and one of the prime Black suspects. He performs the defiant, bluesy "Feel the Rain Fall," when Slaton comes to question him about his flawed testimony. That Conley is serving time on a chain gang at this point lends even more power to the number, even if it does pull us away from the main plot thread.

Let us heap praise by the barrow-load upon the entire cast, with many rounds of applause to the glorious score. But, since there is already talk of a Broadway transfer (à la Into the Woods, presumably), may I take a moment to quibble with the production's over-reliance on video projections of actual newspaper headlines and photos and bits of narrative information to keep us aware of the authenticity of the source material and to make sure we are following the plot. It's hard to know why we are being inundated with these things. This is a musical, after all, and though it is based on an historic event, it is not a documentary. Indeed, if it were to depict historic accurately, I would imagine the subject of lynching would find a way to make a point of its devastating impact on the few Black characters who appear, and the surprisingly underplayed antisemitism would be more strongly emphasized. So send us to Wikipedia or put an explanatory page into the Playbill if you feel you must, and let us just focus on the story and the songs as they unfold. It's a lot to take in, for sure, but we can handle it.

Through November 6, 2022
New York City Center
131 W 55th St., New York
Tickets online and current performance schedule: