Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond lead the 'Parade' to the Tony Awards

Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, both 2023 Tony nominees, talk about their experiences portraying Leo and Lucille Frank in the first Broadway revival of Parade.

Allison Considine
Allison Considine

The role of Leo Frank in Parade has been on Ben Platt’s wish list for a long time. When director Michael Arden called Platt to offer the part, he responded with an instant yes. “This is the role, this is the piece, this is the director, the only thing left was, ‘Who's the wife?’” Platt recalled. When he learned Micaela Diamond would be taking on the role of Lucille Frank, it was an “Oh, hell yes!”

Platt and Diamond both received Tony nominations for their performances as the musical’s leading couple. Parade, featuring music by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry, dramatizes the real-life story of Leo Frank, a Jewish American factory owner who was accused and charged with the murder of 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan. The musical follows the trial, conviction, and anti-Semitic lynching of Frank in 1915 — and the harrowing effects of the case on his headstrong wife, Lucille. The notorious case was reopened in 2019 for reevaluation, a fact projected onto the set at the end of the show.

In addition to Platt and Diamond’s performance nominations, the first Broadway revival of Parade received five additional Tony nods, including Best Musical Revival. Shortly after the Tony Award nominations announcement, Platt and Diamond shared their journey with this heartfelt, historic musical and its audience impact.

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On Parade’s return to Broadway

The musical first bowed on Broadway in 1999, and the Broadway revival began as a limited, sold-out production with New York City Center’s Encores! program, which presents three rarely revived musicals each year, in 2022. “As a musical theatre lover and nerd since, like, 5, I love all great pieces of musical theatre, and this I think is a great piece of musical theatre that deserves another moment,” said Platt.

The much-lauded musical received nine Tony nominations in 1999 and took home awards for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. “I’m so madly in love with the material and so grateful that audiences are loving it too,” said Diamond, who has returned to Broadway for the first time since her 2018 debut in The Cher Show. “It’s so wonderful to lead a company with Ben. I feel like I’m coming into my own as an actor and navigating my voice in new ways thanks to Jason’s unbelievable score. I am in awe at my luck to share this story eight times a week.”

Parade’s return to Broadway also marks Platt’s return to Broadway — he last trod the boards in Dear Evan Hansen in 2017. While Platt has since found success on the silver screen and in the recording studio, the theatre will always be home. “Anytime I do musical theatre, it reinvigorates my love for the art form,” he said. And Parade is the most “stylistically, up-my-alley [show] as a theatre person that I've done so far.”

Jason Robert Brown’s score is “the most comfort zone, home base sound,” he added. “For me, musically, it's been a really beautiful kind of homecoming.”

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On performing the emotionally charged material eight shows a week

The show is a challenging night at the theatre, especially for the lead performers, who tap into the emotional lives of the Franks night after night. For Platt, the biggest challenge has been navigating the subject matter. His performance is focused on “making sure to find the hope and levity and humanity within all the difficult big symbolism because it is a big story about ideas… and Leo Frank stands for all these things,” said Platt.

During the show's 15-minute intermission, Platt remains seated on stage in an effort to stay in character and build momentum for Act 2. "There are days where I'm able to think purely about Leo and the story and remain totally in the world of it, and there are days that are more challenging or more fatiguing, where my main thought is just to try to meditate."

For her part, Diamond relies on her onstage partner for emotional support. “Ben is surely a veteran," she said. "He is so calm during these moments and quite the grounding force. He is holding me tenderly as I navigate all the feelings. I’ve learned so much from Ben and his ability to stay consistent but still find the playground inside the work. At the end of the day, we share a lot of respect for one another. And I won’t take that granted.”

On what the Franks have taught the actors about themselves

Portraying Lucille and Leo Frank has been an opportunity for introspection and self-identification for the lead performers. They’ve brought themselves into their roles, and vice versa.

“So much of Micaela is in my Lucille,” said Diamond, who received her first Tony nomination for this role. “At the beginning, I feel like I’m in a place of wanting more with a man who doesn’t. We aren’t able to see one another, especially relating to how we show up as Jews. The denying of my Judaism as part of my identity is present in Lucille and not in Leo.

"All of those feelings have been close to self at various moments in my life," she continued. "Then as we get into Act 2, as she starts to find her voice and prove her worth in the relationship, there’s power in that vulnerability and honesty that I constantly crave and strive for in my human.”

For Platt, the opportunity to portray Leo Frank has also been an opportunity for learning and self-acceptance. “As a Jew, it's really continued to help me embrace my identity and… accept myself for the kind of non-traditional elements of my Jewish identity, like my lack of traditional observance or Kashrut — the things that maybe the outside world thinks make you Jewish," he said. "[I’m] just really grateful for the things that actually do make feel Jewish.”

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On the importance of Parade to today’s audiences

The sensationalism of Leo Frank’s case and the anti-Semitism that led to his untimely death are unfortunately relevant topics today. On the evening of Parade’s opening performance, anti-Semitic protestors gathered outside the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in a display of hatred.

This hard truth is what drew Platt to sign on as Leo Frank at this time. “When the thing you love to do with your art matches a really urgent message that I think is very necessary, it’s a beautiful thing that does not happen often — when those things really go hand in hand,” said Platt.

This 110-year-old story has a lot to offer audiences; it implicates and charges audience members to empathize and take action. “I think Parade is so different from other pieces in the musical theatre canon,” said Diamond. “It asks a lot of the audience. I hope they take away the grey in this story — the tragedy that white supremacy pits Blacks and Jews against each other on purpose.”

So what’s the takeaway? “To get further, we must see one another,” Diamond said. “This is about what the losers of the Civil War did with all of their rage. What will you do with yours? And how can we love harder in the face of trauma?”

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Photo credit: Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond in Parade on Broadway. (Photos by Joan Marcus)

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