BWW Reviews: The Arden Theatre Company Presents a Riveting PARADE
The Arden Theatre opened their twenty-sixth season with a stellar production of PARADE. This musical takes place in 1913 and tells the story of Leo Frank who was accused of murdering a thirteen year old girl, Mary Phagan. This show grapples with the trial of Leo Frank, and the racial environment that surrounded the trial in Georgia. PARADE depicts the resentments and fears held by many Georgians during the early twentieth century. The Arden's production of PARADE, under the direction of Terrance Nolan, is powerful, thought provoking, and well executed.
PARADE is one of those shows that will have you contemplating the show for days, and leaves you wanting to know more about the real events that form the basis of the musical. Jason Robert Brown wrote the score for this show, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, Alfred Uhry wrote the book. PARADE opened on Broadway in December 1998, and Harold Prince directed the Broadway production. The show won two Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score.
PARADE features a cast of outstanding talents. The staging, the lighting, costumes and sets all help transport the audience back to 1913 and the world of Leo Frank. Ben Dibble plays Leo Frank, an educated man from New York who came to Atlanta to manage a pencil factory. Dibble initially comes across as cold, which later evolves into passion and anger. He portrays Frank with precision and he allows audiences to experience the transformation of Frank's character throughout the show, from the anger of being wrongfully accused to his internal conflicts and growing love and admiration for his wife. Frank's wife, Lucille, is portrayed by Jennie Eisenhower. Eisenhower brings Mrs. Frank to life on the stage and presents an emotional depth to this character who initially appears calm and subdued, but with something more just lurking beneath the surface. Dibble and Eisenhower portray the relationship between the Frank's in such a way that they are very authentic and true to life, this is not a storybook romance, but a relationship that though it has its challenges is still deep and emotionally enduring. The dialogue between Dibble and Eisenhower is fascinating to watch, especially in the beginning of the show when they not only seem frustrated with each other but also depict the commitment to each other. Jeffrey Coon plays the ambitious newspaper reporter who covers the Frank case, Britt Craig. Coon is marvelous in this role, and his big voice is perfect for the song "Big News." In addition, Coon brings moments of humor to the show, which gives a reprieve from the emotional weight of the show's story. Scott Greer plays the Governor of Georgia, Governor John Slaton. Greer skillfully portrays this southern gentleman and his internal conflict between doing what he believes is right and just, and playing the role of the consummate southern politician. His performance in "Pretty Music" adds a bit of playfulness and levity to the show. Robert Hager plays Frankie Epps, the young man who wants to avenge his friend Mary's death. Hager beautifully sings a song during the funeral sequence, "It Don't Make Sense," where he tries to understand the tragedy. The entire cast of PARADE is phenomenal, and this show is an outstanding production that brings to life the compelling story of the case of Leo Frank.
There are several highlights to the Arden's production of PARADE. The duet between Dibble and Eisenhower, "All the Wasted Time" is very emotional, and my favorite song in the show. Eisenhower's song, "You Don't Know This Man," presents the raw emotion and anger felt by Mrs. Frank over the outrageous accusations made against her husband. The opening song of Act Two: "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'"is skillfully sung by Derrick Cobey and Kenita R. Miller, and is a discourse about the racial tensions in the South. In addition, the digital technology the Arden uses in this production is remarkable. PARADE is an outstanding production with a remarkable cast, and should not be missed.