(The following background information was in my review of 3-D's first production at Plummer Auditorium, Fullerton in 2013.)
In 1998 when Jason Robert Brown won a Tony Award for the score of this unusually provocative musical Parade, the opulent Broadway production closed to critical acclaim, but due to excessive costs, the show remained inaccessible until The Donmar Warehouse resurrected it and produced a tight - minus the frills - mounting at the Mark Taper Forum in 2009. 3-D Theatricals, who are becoming increasingly known for their superlative skill with producing big musicals, have decided to put back many of the frills of the original and double the cast to its original size - 36, in order to enhance and give the musical the big, full-voiced chorus sound it deserves. And, in my mind, this bigger hybrid version surpasses the Taper's for its grande musical elegance and the presence of a perfectly cast lead actor in the role of Leo Frank, Jeff Skowron.
Most remarkable about Parade is the combined brilliance of the book and music in capturing the in depth texture/mood of every emotion: fear, hope, pain, joy. In Atlanta, Georgia, circa 1913 a memorial day parade symbolizes celebration, but underneath a truly artificial sense of freedom there lies festering something undeniably evil that is destined to explode. Frank and wife Lucille (Caitlin Humphreys) are at odds in their marriage. He's a Northern Jew; she a Southern Jew. He feels the great gap that exists between them. Guilty or not guilty of the murder of Mary Phagan - a crime of which he is accused, tried and convicted - he remains, in every social encounter, the constant outsider. Comparisons will be made to Ragtime because of the time period in which both musicals take place, but Ragtime concerns itself more deeply with the black experience. It becomes quite obvious that in Parade's perspective of the deep South, not only blacks are victims, but anyone who does not fit into Atlanta's manufactured world of pretentious perfection. If the Ku Klux Klan are not lynching blacks, then they go after Jews, perverts, sodomites or anyone else that veers even 10 degrees away from their cockeyed sense of Christian morality. Post Civil War changes may be in effect, but bad habits die hard.
T.J. Dawson has directed this latest production with the same precision that earned the first in 2013 several Ovation Awards. The ensemble of actors are top-notch with Skowron magnificently centered as Leo Frank. We never really know this complicated man, and Skowron keeps us guessing. The only thing we feel for sure is his dedication to his work; his love for his wife falters in Act I, but blossoms in Act II when he realizes just how much she has done to try to get him acquitted. Chelle Denton joins this cast as the brave Lucille dominating her scenes with stalwart acting and a magnificently thrilling singing voice. Rufus Bonds, Jr. is incredible once more as Jim Conley whose"Blues: Feel the Rain Fall" rocks to the rafters. Davis Gaines is relentlessly unwavering as prosecuting attorney Hugh Dorsey. Also terribly good are Robert Yacko as the clean-living Governor Slaton, Gordon Goodman in such fine voice as bible thumping Tom Watson, E.E. Bell as weak defense attorney Luther Rosser, Benjamin Schrader as reporter Britt Craig whose "Real Big News" delivered in an inebriated state brings down the house.
Thunderous praise as well to Leslie Stevens as loyal Mrs. Slaton, Jeanette Dawson as the grieving Mrs. Phagan, Bradley Baker so believably guilty as victimized security guard Newt Lee, Tyler McLean outstanding as Frankie, in love with Mary Phagan and the Young Soldier, Valerie Rose Lohman as Mary and to the other 23 members of the triple threat ensemble, who, as the hypocritical community, add so much substance to the courtroom and parade scenes.
The picnic scene with Skowron and Denton in Act II remains one of the most touching and heartfelt scenes ever written for the musical stage. Taking liberty with the manner in which Frank meets his maker may not be complete fact, but it does add great dramatic intent to the story and shows what indeed could very well have happened under the unrelenting power of this mockery of a judicial system that represented Atlanta at the time. There is certainly a parallel in today's world with the ongoing political corruption in Washington.
Dark set design with the dimly lit horizon by Tom Buderwitz, fine costumes by Shon Le Blanc and eerie lighting design by Jean-Yves Tessier add much to the proceedings. A big and bold enterprise which 3-D Theatricals have carried off brilliantly twice, showing the powerhouse musical that is Parade
(photo credit: Caught in the Moment Photography)