“Parade” Marches Us Into Dark Days Of Extreme Prejudice With A Powerful Book And Musical Score

One of the best moments in "Parade" is this tender love scene between Pete Winfrey as Leo and Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Lucille. Photo: Michael Young

One of the best moments in “Parade” is this tender love scene between Pete Winfrey as Leo and Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Lucille. Photo: Michael Young

R-S Theatrics has once again brought us, as an audience, to the brink with a well acted and well sung production of the award winning- but seldom produced- “Parade.” With book by Alfred Uhry (of “Driving Miss Daisy” fame) and music and lyrics by the multi-award winning Jason Robert Brown, the narrative and lyrics manage to drive this dark and unimaginable part of our history into the light. A miscarriage of justice that wasn’t rectified until 73 years after the fact.

Leo Frank falls in love with Lucille and, despite both being Jews, he was raised in Brooklyn while she was raised in Atlanta (where Mr. Uhry delved into the Southern Jewish enigma in his brilliant “Last Night Of Ballyhoo”). Despite becoming a cog in the factory owned by his father-in-law, Leo was never accepted in this Southern environment since he was considered more “uppity” than the Jews who “knew their place” in the redneck background of 1913 Atlanta. As a result, when one of his female workers is found raped and dead in the factory, the local District Attorney manages to manipulate the locals into railroading him into a guilty verdict for the crime. When the Governor begins to find the whole trial suspicious, the momentum swing in Leo’s favor is soon quelled by the mob mentality of the locals. It’s a story hard to watch and that glimmer of hope of a rational outcome makes it even tougher to accept.

Ken Haller runs rough-shod over Leo during the trial in "Parade" at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Ken Haller runs rough-shod over Leo during the trial in “Parade” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

The “Parade” of the title refers to the Confederate Memorial Day celebration and parade celebrated every year in Atlanta. It frames the events that span several years in this miscarriage of justice. Pete Winfrey and Jennifer Theby-Quinn are stand outs in a cast that truly shines throughout. His gaunt features seem to waste away even more as his jail time increases. Lucille’s unexpected turn into an advocate for justice serves her well as they manage to overcome the odds and get his transfer from a certain death sentence to time in prison with the possibility of a re-trial. Both display excellent acting and singing skills and simply melt your heart in the second act tender love song, “All The Wasted Time.” As the villain in the piece, Ken Haller is simply magnificent in his eloquent and manipulative handling of the trial and leads the way with a powerful singing voice. His second act “fishing” conversation with the Judge- played by Derick J. Smith- is a quiet and insightful moment in a show filled with little musical gems.

The object of all the furor, 13 year old Mary Phagan, is given a beautiful interpretation by Beth Wickenhauser and the real suspected killer, janitor Jim Conley, is powerfully portrayed by Marshall Jennings. His two dynamite solos are integral to the plot and offer up his depth of range- his “That’s What He Said” during the trial and his mournful and bluesy “Feel The Rain.” Bradley J. Behrmann also brings a strong character and singing voice to the role of beat reporter turned star, Britt Craig. Nice work also by Alexis Coleman as the Frank’s maid and Shawn Bowers as a rather pseudo-suspect in the case. Their second act opening number, “A Rumblin’ And A Rollin'” shows us another side of the deep roots of prejudice in this environment of hate.

Marshall Jennings as Jim delivers a poignant yet deceptive moment in "Parade." Photo: Michael Young

Marshall Jennings as Jim delivers a poignant yet deceptive moment in “Parade.” Photo: Michael Young

Kevin Hester brings a great turn to the Governor as he vacillates while displaying an overbearing dance style in the second act number, “Pretty Music.” The rest of the large cast includes great performances by all including Caitlin Mickey, Macia Noorman and Maggie Murphy as three factory girls giving damaging testimony at the trial, Kay Love in a dual role and multiple roles for Zach Wachter, Robert Breig and GP Hunsaker. Director Christina Rios has handled the large cast well on the small stage at the Ivory Theatre and, despite a need for a bit more energy during the crowd scenes, we’ll cut them some slack since they are almost bumping into each other as the “Parade” passes by.

A shout out as well to Leah Luciano’s musical direction and an unnamed orchestra that brought out the powerful score in fine fashion. Appeared to notice a French Horn and even an Oboe among the more traditional instruments and this really added depth to a score that really carries the story. From those I’ve already mentioned to the great opening of “Old Red Hills of Home” to the entire trial sequence and some dramatic second act moments, this Jason Robert Brown score is one of the best. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes didn’t always meet the needs, but they were overall effective and made the principal characters stand out beautifully. Nathan Schroeder’s lights were great and the nice Mark Kelley sound design included some pre-show and intermission period appropriate music to get you into the mood for the time frame. No credit on the scenic design but the black curtain backdrops were enhanced by needed furniture pieces including desks, benches for the trial and even an nice jail cell effect.

Bradley J. Behrmann as Britt excites the crowd in R-S Theatrics production of "Parade." Photo: Michael Young

Bradley J. Behrmann as Britt excites the crowd in R-S Theatrics production of “Parade.” Photo: Michael Young

Besides being able to cross another “new” musical seen off personal “seen” list, R-S Theatrics is to be commended for tackling these relevant as well as entertaining pieces that don’t get the productions they deserve. “Parade” is a delightful piece that tells a powerful story and is enhanced by a score that moves the story along while also being melodic and dramatic. It’s a win-win with this outstanding production of “Parade” at the Ivory Theatre as presented by R-S Theatrics. It only runs through the 15th of September, so call them at 314-456-0071 or visit r-stheatrics.com for tickets or more information.

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