A review of “Parade,” the story of a falsely accused man and the corrupt government, racial tension and unethical press that all contributed to his downfall. A Sound Theatre Company production at 12th Ave Arts.
The events that inspired Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s musical “Parade” occurred more than 100 years ago, but one doesn’t have to strain too hard to recognize the milieu. A onetime flop on Broadway, where it was directed by the legendary Harold Prince, “Parade” had a chance to rehabilitate its reputation with a well-received national tour shortly thereafter, which included a stop at the 5th Avenue Theatre in 2000.
Now, a hugely ambitious production by Sound Theatre Company makes a convincing case for the work’s vitality, and there are points within this admirable staging where it feels like we owe “Parade” an apology and a spot in the canon of great 20th-century musicals.
Uhry’s book, which dramatizes the story of Leo Frank, falsely accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl in 1913 Atlanta, pointedly underlines a variety of societal failings: a corrupt government eager to appear tough on crime, an economically goaded wave of racial tension, a media consumed by bloodlust. The book’s lack of subtlety actually works well in concert with Brown’s complex but accessible score, at turns stirring and disconcerting as it traverses the American musical landscape from folk to gospel to military marches to jazz.
by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown. Through Saturday, March 26, at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $18-$28 (800-838-3006 or soundtheatreompany.org)
Director Troy Wageman’s staging tests the limits of the 12th Ave Arts mainstage — there are 18 people in the cast — but it remains remarkably lucid, even as the ensemble jostles for space. By necessity, the actors rarely exit the stage between scenes, lending a communal energy as each sits and waits along the stage’s edge for his or her next cue.
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Jeff Orton stars as Leo Frank, a Jewish New Yorker who feels deeply out of place in a South still defined by its Confederate legacy. When his employee Mary Phagan (Delaney Guyer) is found dead, he’s arrested and indicted, lack of evidence be damned. Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Brian Lange, making his case to play every unctuous slimeball), aspiring politician Tom Watson (Justin Carrell) and journalist Britt Craig (Garrett Dill) stoke the outrage, anti-Semitism and mob mentality mixing in a lethal cocktail.
Leo’s trial, a nine-part suite that closes out the first act, is a masterful amalgam of flashback and fantasy, charged with a bristling intensity as the crowd burns for justice. There are a few inert moments and underwhelming vocals elsewhere in Sound’s production, but this sequence is never less than riveting.
Orton transforms Leo from nebbish to Lothario as testimony paints him as a leering predator. There’s showman swagger from suspected accomplice Jim Conley (DeSean Halley), manufactured solemnity from Dorsey and a heartbreaking remembrance from Mary’s mother (Ann Cornelius) that turns suddenly acrid, reminiscent of “If You Could See Her” from “Cabaret.”
“Parade” is a frontloaded show to be sure, but its second act justifies its existence with the blossoming of a tender romance between Leo and his wife, Lucille (a vocally impeccable Tori Spero). As their love flourishes behind bars, she becomes his greatest advocate and strives, along with Gov. John Slaton (Jordan Jackson), to prove his innocence.
Crucial to the show’s success is Nathan Young’s spry music direction, as he leads a nine-piece band through a show that’s scored almost all the way through. It’s an impressive display in a production that has no shortage of them.