Review: “Parade” at Cultural Arts Playhouse

In 1913 a man named Leo Frank was convicted of the murder of a 13 year-old employee of the pencil factory he managed in Atlanta, Georgia. Although the case remains absent from American history curriculums, it was considered the “crime of the century” at the time. It was undeniable that his status as a Jewish man holding a position of authority played a role in his conviction. “Parade” – with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (“The Last Five Years,” “13”) and a book by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”) – tells Mr. Franks story while painting a portrait of life for an outsider in the deep south.

The musical opens with a time-jump from the Civil War to the 1900s. Ryan Daniels sets the bar high with his powerful vocals in “The Old Red Hills of Home” to open the show. In mere minutes we’re transported to Atlanta, Georgia where Memorial Day festivities prominently feature Confederate flags. Like Mr. Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Parade” grounds itself in history. CAP’s production shows great understanding of the material. Real photographs and news clippings of the characters and the events of the musical heightens that connection to reality.

Zach Zain as Leo Frank

It’s not long before we’re introduced to Leo Frank, portrayed expertly by Zach Zain. He fully embodies what history tells us of Mr. Frank’s actual demeanor and body language with great care. Meanwhile, Mr. Zain’s vocals are truly a highlight of the production and a gift to behold. His rich, powerful tone filled with emotion perfectly suits Mr. Brown’s score.

Alanna Rose Henriquez equally impresses as Lucille Frank. She emotes a full spectrum of emotional depth throughout the musical while projecting exquisite vocals. The chemistry between the two actors is palpable and strengthens both of their performances. As the musical proceeds your compassion only builds for the Franks, making their fate all the more heartbreaking.

Alanna Rose Henriquez as Lucille Frank

There is also no shortage of talent in the supporting cast. Zachary Levy embodies Governor John Slaton, giving him dimension despite his morally dubious start. In this way, the musical becomes a story of morality and its shades of grey. Nick Masson gives a brilliant performance as the dubious prosecutor Hugh Dorsey looking to manipulate Mr. Frank’s case for his own ambition. Although he fights for justice for a murdered young girl, the events that play out show a problematic system that continues to shatter lives to this day.

Nick Masson as Hugh Dorsey

We also see how the media plays a role in our justice system with Jared Grossman’s portrayal of reporter Britt Craig. With his vaudville-esque antics and alcoholism, the musical openly questions journalistic responsibility. Mr. Grossman gives Mr. Craig depth alongside his comedic bits, especially in his empathetic interactions with Lucille Frank.

While the musical focuses on the city’s anti-semitism, we also get a glimpse into the manipulation of its African American residents. From the Frank’s maid Minnie (Taneisha Corbin) and a worker in the factory (Jermaine S. Carroll), the prosecution’s racist practices forces them to betray their morals. However, Jim Conley (Mark Weekes) – an escaped convict – is more than happy to exchange his freedom for lies. This othered sector voices the hypocrisy of the case in “Rumblin’ and a Rollin’,” where the three aforementioned actors give powerhouse performances.

The production garners much of its strength from its ensemble as a whole. There are no weak performances here and each performer displays notable passion no matter how brief the solo or scene. From the innocent exchanges of Frankie Epps (Andrew Glick) and the ill-fated Mary Phagan (Jenna Hammelman) to the powerful, somber mourning of Tom Watson (AJ Martinez), this is a first rate group of performers.

Mark Weekes as Jim Conley

It was a delight to see a live pit on stage, featuring a skilled group of musicians that heightens Mr. Brown’s complex, but beautiful and well-crafted score. Meanwhile, admirable craftsmanship is on full display with the simple, but effective set featuring prominent white columns evoking the forbidding presence of the court.

I truly commend Mr. Bruce Grossman for bringing this musical to life on Long Island. Relatively unknown compared to jukebox or Disney musicals, “Parade” is a work that remains timely and deserves to be seem. It would be a mistake to let this breathtaking display of theatre and history pass you by.

Tickets are available on CAP’s website! There you can also find the theater’s statement regarding their vigilant strategies to combat spread of COVID-19.

*Note: Understudies Nick Masson and Bruce Grossman will appear as Leo Frank and Hugh Dorsey, respectively, on 3/14 and 3/15

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