'Parade' review — Ben Platt leads a first-rate cast in this dark, gripping revival
Read our five-star review of Parade on Broadway, starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre through August 6.
It’s a rare and thrilling gift when a musical presents a song that stirs up a legitimate lump in your throat. Parade, back in a banner revival, sees its stars Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond work that special magic twice with a pair of duets, one hopeful and one crushing. Memo: Bring tissues.
First (and last) seen on Broadway in 1998, this unflinchingly dark show by composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown and writer Alfred Uhry – who each won a Tony for their toils – was sparked by infamous true events. The late Harold Prince, who directed the premiere, is credited here as a co-conceiver.
In 1913 Marietta, Georgia, Leo Frank (Platt), a 29-year-old Jewish factory supervisor from Brooklyn, was wrongfully arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for allegedly killing Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old employee of his. After years of appeals, Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, but he was lynched by a vigilante mob.
That might not strike you as a story that sings. But Parade reminds us that musicals have unlimited capacity for stories; it’s all in the telling. Despite the cumbersome first act, Brown and Uhry tell a gripping story wrapped in a beautiful and richly varied score.
Moreover, nearly 25 years after the show’s debut, the themes it covers – anti-Semitism, media sensationalism, judicial corruption, and mob violence among them – throb with up-to-the-second resonance. It’s a musical in which powerful people advance a narrative and manipulate others — and facts — to fit it. Like yesterday’s headlines, no?
Director Michael Arden’s excellent revival arrives on Broadway fresh from a New York City Center run in November. The cast is mostly intact, and the physical production remains essentially the same. Susan Hilferty’s costumes are buttoned up in period detail, while lighting designer Heather Gilbert bathes the stage in a moody glow.
Dane Laffrey’s set features a raised platform with chairs on two sides. Scenes move seamlessly from the Frank residence to factory to courtroom to jail cell to Confederate Memorial Day parade and beyond. Exposed theatre walls become the blank canvas for projection designer Sven Ortel’s images that define interior and exterior locations.
Photographs also appear to identify the real-life characters connected to the Frank case. Besides lending a docudrama vibe, the pictures lend clarity to the sprawling who’s who. There’s a parade of scheming politicians, bigoted journalists, corrupt prosecutors, witnesses who lie through their teeth, and others. It takes a village to railroad a scapegoat.
The photo IDs are smart moves by Arden, although not every choice is quite as well-judged. A courtroom section that shifts into slow motion is a head-scratcher. The specter of Mary Phagan perched on a swing in midair is an odd and heavy-handed idea that reaps no payoff.
Fortunately, the uniformly terrific cast makes up for small-scale quibbles. Standout supporting work comes from Sean Allan Krill as the honorable Governor Slaton; Alex Joseph Grayson as Jim Conley, whose testimony nails Leo; Paul Alexander Nolan as the rabid prosecutor; and Jake Pedersen as Mary’s boyfriend.
Leo and Lucille’s evolving relationship forms the heart of the show, and both stars deliver in performances that are authentically life-size — no larger — and that is key to this story. Watching Diamond (The Cher Show) go from timid Jewish wife to take-charge partner is exhilarating. As a displaced New Yorker who’s not so likable, Dear Evan Hansen Tony winner Platt notches another Broadway triumph.
Both leads shine brightest in those aforementioned two songs. The optimistic “This Is Not Over Yet” marks the reopening of Leo’s case. “All the Wasted Time,” in which they express their love, is an 11 o’clock heartbreaker — all the more so since we know from the start where this Parade inexorably ends.
Photo credit: Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt in Parade. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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