Set in 1913 Atlanta and written in 1998 (the same year it won two Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score), Parade recounts the events surrounding the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man accused of murdering a young girl who worked at the pencil factory he oversaw. Although focused on tragedy, Parade, now in performances at Writers Theatre in a beautifully directed production by Gary Griffin, ultimately forms an uplifting rallying cry to fight injustice and ignorance.
Parade begins with the sound of drumming. A young Confederate soldier (Devin DeSantis) takes the stage to sing his farewells (“The Old Hills of Georgia”) to his beloved Lila and prepares to fight in the Civil War. Michael Mahler’s music direction is uniformly excellent, with Ray Nardelli’s sound design ensuring that the singers can be heard at all times.
As “The Old Hills of Georgia” continues, the young soldier ages into the Old Soldier (Larry Adams), a veteran of the war. Despite the war’s outcome, he continues singing about how he and the others of Georgia will continue to “Praise those who’d fight / For the Old Hills of Georgia / For those proud and valiant men / We’ll sing “Dixie” once again.” Jason Robert Brown’s soaring melodies are sung with pitch-perfect clarity by DeSantis, Adams, and the rest of the ensemble throughout the production, but this opening moment stands out most in for its passionate articulation of the South’s pride in a way that is understandable, albeit chilling.
While each actor in Parade creates a gripping and nuanced performance, several actors in particular truly shine in this production, especially Patrick Andrews as Leo Frank and Brianna Borger as his wife, Lucille. Andrews and Borger sing with emotion, coloring each of their songs with their character’s hopes, dreams, and fears. They also balance the couple’s slowly growing marital troubles with growing love and admiration for each other, learning each other’s true worth before tragedy strikes. Jonathan Butler-Duplessis also impresses as the charismatic key witness in the trial, Jim Conley. His second act rendition of “Blues: Feel the Rain Fall” is a truly dazzling performance full of flair and verve.
Tying this powerful production together is Griffin’s direction, which briskly moves the musical along while foregrounding the show’s pertinent messages. Parade is a focused, precise and impassioned production that transcends tragedy to call for perseverance. An acute awareness of each of our roles in America’s continually developing history permeates Parade, calling on us to examine what part we want to play in our country’s future. There is no happy ending for the Frank family; however, Griffin teases out a sense of closure that empowers Lucille, suggesting that the prejudices of 1913 Atlanta may some day be struck down thanks to the story she has found herself a part of.
Parade continues performances through July 9 at Writers Theatre, located at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe. Tickets range from $35-80 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 847-242-6000 or at www.writerstheatre.org.