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A CurtainUp Review
How could I be so lucky
Leo and Lucille Franks
What kind of fool could have taken you for granted?
Leo Frank emerging from his rather prissy, pompous personality to express the love nourished
circumstance. The lyrics are from the duet "All the Wasted Time" (illustrated above) in which
tragedy brings passion and understanding to a conflicted relationship.
Parade completes playwright Alfred Uhry's Atlanta trilogy. As directed and
Harold Prince it is an uncompromisingly serious musical. A big leafless oak tree with its
protruding branch is an immediate and ever-present omen that your ticket is an invitation to a
hanging -- the hanging of Leo Frank by an angry lynch mob determined that the court's verdict
that he was guilty of murdering a young factory girl be carried out. Mr. Prince has not
candy coated this dark episode in American history with whistle-and-dance tunes or a neatly tied
up feel-good ending, but Parade is filled with the spectacle that a big musical needs to be
true to its
Above all, it has two stars who make it soar above its sensational murder trial roots, Brent
Carver and Carolee Carmello. Their emotionally and musically rich portrayals bring two names
from the headlines vividly to life -- an ordinary man and woman in a not particularly romantic
relationship (their marriage was said to be arranged) falling deeply in love as a result of finding
themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
No doubt there will be those who will think this musical chronicle of the notorious 1913 trial
the subsequent lynching should have been done as a straight play, like its predecessors
Miss Daisy and Last Night at Ballyhoo. After all, theater goers who accept tragic
always rush to see operatically dark musicals like Passion and Assassins
prompted Stephen Sondheim turned down the chance to musicalize Uhry's story as "too dark").
But for those who appreciate a thinking musical, Parade has much to offer -- and
With newcomer Jason Robert Brown admittedly Mr. Prince's second choice composer-lyricist,
it's only natural to wonder what Sondheim would have done with this book -- or even Michael
John LaChiusa whose best of all possible La Ronde adaptation, the musical
Again, first acquainted me with the spectacular talent of Carolee Carmello. Yet, here
we have young
Brown with music and lyrics, beautifully orchestrated by Don Sebesky and appealing enough to
without comparisons to
might-have-been composers. His score embodies a diversity of musical genres and
moods. It succeeds at all times in moving the story forward and does so modestly
in that there are no built-in pauses for extended applause.
Audiences leaving the theater
come away mostly with an overall sense of the music. But then most serious musicals
require more than a one-time hearing to make a lasting impression (one reason I
went to see Parade in previews and again two days after the official opening). Still there
are a remarkable number of songs which will immediately and strongly resonate on the
ear, heart and memory.
Three which immediately come to mind:
Leo's first solo "Can I Call This Home," Lucille's "Do It Alone" and Leo and Lucille's
heart-wrenching duet "All the Wasted Time." These songs are eloquent and
mood-appropriate. The more playful, smartly syncopated "Big News" is aptly left to the
newspaperman (most effectively played by Evan Pappas) for whom the case is a respite from
from the boredom of the police beat.
The fantasy trial scene in which the staid and bespectacled Leo bursts into the "Come Up to My
Office" song and dance routine is likely to be more controversial. While no one will argue
that it shows Brent Carver's talent off to splendid effect, some will find it jarring
(probably the same people who failed to respond to Pennies From Heaven ). For
anyone who closely looks at this tense and proper man as three young factory workers accuse
him of impropriety, it is in keeping with the atmosphere of the trial to have Leo
enact those charges to bring home the unlikelihood of their being
true. It is an entertaining interlude that at once deflects and escalates the tension.
Another potentially controversial scene is the Governor's tea party during which
Lucille makes her plea for clemency for her husband. Those who will compare this show to
will cite this as a similar case of prettying up a dark story. There are indeed
a number of surface
resemblances between the two musicals -- their time frames, their history based plots, and the
change and growth
of a leading character from ordinary housewife to woman of daring and fortitude. While
there's even a somewhat "Wheel
of Dreams" tone to the finale, Parade never succumbs to the surging all's well
dreamer's anthem. It's never just pretty -- which brings us
back to the two-stepping scene at the Governor's mansion.
That dance party, like Carver's
courtroom fantasy scene, furthers rather than interrupts the dramatic situation. It aptly
illustrates how life
on for Atlanta's true insiders while this tragic miscarriage of injustice threatens to go forth
unheeded. It also underscores the giant leap towards decency eventually made by the
Governor. This sort of aptness applies to all of Patricia Birch's choreography. Particularly
noteworthy is the way she has the trial
literally errupt into a dance after the guilty verdict. The crowd dances its way into the street (as
Atlantans did dance in the streets according to newspaper stories) and gradually snake their way
around a stunned Leo and Lucille. It's a terrific and terrifying first act finale.
What about book and staging?
With the trial alone taking up nine scenes it's clear that it takes a muscular and intelligent book
and direction to successfully bring together the three historic segments -- the murder, the
trial, the lynching -- and the personal story of Leo and Lucille. Uhry's book does indeed
deliver the needed heft and intelligence and the integration of book and lyrics is very strong. If
at times Uhry seems to lean somewhat too heavily towards demonizing the South and
martyring Frank, a study of
the case will make clear that the book follows facts quite closely -- including the smashing of
Jewish store owners' windows after the tragedy. Probably the most fictionalized aspects of the
book pertain to the relationship between Lucille and Leo for even though Lucille was a friend of
"Miss Daisy" (Alfred Uhry's grandmother) her private life was just that, private.
In his role as director and
co-conceiver Harold Prince has hung it all on a very viable concept, three Confederate
Memorial Day parades. By building the tragedy in the making, its dramatic high point and
aftermath around the
parades, he has achieved a fine sense of
historical spectacle Those parades also anchor the story's time frame (1914-16) and serve
as the leitmotif to explain the why and how of a story whose outcome is known from
-- why the murder of the young farm
girl turned factory worker stirred such violent feelings, and how Leo and Lucille's
marriage reflected the deep-seated differences between Northerners and Southerners. Since Act
One must spend considerable time setting up the
characters and the crime it is slower and less forceful emotionally than Act Two.
The 35-member cast is obviously too large for detailed comments. All acquit themselves well
in terms of solid acting and singing. Rufus Bonds, Jr (as Jim Conley), Herndon
Lackey (as prosecutor Dorsey, and John Hickok (as Governor Slaton) have particularly strong
the stagecraft department, Judith Dolan's costumes are authentic and handsome and Ricardo
Hernandez's veratile and efficient sets lend the needed visual diversity to the various locations.
Howell Binkley's once again
proves himself a wizard of lighting (his outstanding design contributed enormously to another
trial-of-the-century play, Never the Sinner -- see link). The red sky chain gang scene in
Act II, captures some of the splendor of the burning
of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.
In the end, this is a bittersweet story of two people who were caught up in a tidal wave
beyond their making.
It is a story that emerges amid a mass of
images and voices that deserve our attention. It's not light musical entertainment and the only
humming it entails -- is the hum of
history brought to heart stirring life.
Production Notes |
Book by Alfred Uhry
Lyrics and music by Jason Robert Brown
Directed and co-conceived by Harold
Starring Brent Carver and s Carolee Carmello as Leo and Lucille Selig Frank.
Featured players: J.B. Adams as Rosser; Ray Aranha as Newt Lee; Rufus Bonds, Jr. as Jim
Conley; Don Chastainas Judge Roan; Jeff Edgerton as Fiddlin' John; John Hickok as Governor
Slaton; Herndon Lackey as Hugh Dorsey; Jessica Molaskey as Mrs. Phagan;
Kirk McDonald (as Frankie Epps; Evan Pappas as Britt Craig; Christy Carlson Romano as Mary
Phagen; and John Leslie Wolfe as Tom Watson.
Ensemble: Adinah Alexander, Diana Brownstone, Duane Boutte, Thursday Farrar, Will
Gartshore, Abbi Hutcherson, Tad Ingram, Emily Klein, Angela Lockett, Megan McGinnis, J.C.
Montgomery, Brooke Sunny Moriber, Randy Redd, Joel Robertson, Peter Samuel, Robin Skye,
Don Stephenson, Bill Szobody, Anne Torsiglieri, Melanie Vaughan and Wysandra Woolsey.
Set Design:Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design: Judith Dolan
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 150 West 65th Street ((212/239-6200)
11/12/98-2/28/99; opening 12/17/98
Closing 2/28/99 after 39 previews and 84 performances.
Seen at a 11/22/preview and again 12/19/98 and reviewed by Elyse
Prologue: The Old Red Hills of home - Young Soldier, Old Soldier,
Anthem: The Dream of Atlanta - Ensemble
How Can I Call This Home - Leo Frank, Ensemble
The Picture Show- Frankie Epps, Mary Phagan
Leo At Work/What Am I Waiting For? - Leo Frank, Lucille Frank
Interrogation -I am trying to remember - Newt Lee, Mrs. Phagan
Big News! - Britt Craig
There Is a Fountain/It Don't Make Sense - Frankie Epps, Ensemble (incorporating There is a
Fountain traditionl hymn by William Cowper, melody by Lowell Mason (1772)
Watson's Lullaby - Tom Watson
Somethin' Ain't Right - Hugh Dorsey
Real Big News - Britt Craig, Reporters, Ensemble
You Don't Know This Man - Lucille Frank
The Trial (Finale Act 1)
Pt.I: It Is Time Now" - Fiddlin' John, Tom Watson, Ensemble
Pt.II: Twenty Miles From Marietta --Hugh Dorsey
Pt.III: Frankie's Testimony - Frankie Epps, Mary Phagan, Watson, Ensemble
Pt.IV: The Factory Girls/Come Up to My Office - Iola,Essie, Monteen, Leo Frank
Pt. V: Newt Lee's Testimony -Newt Lee Ensemble
Pt. VI: My Child Will Forgive Me - Mrs. Phagan
Pt. VII: hat's What He Said - Jim Conley, Ensemble
Pt. VIII: "Leo's Statement/It's Hard to Speak My Heart" - Leo Frank
Pt. IX: Closing Statements and Verdict - Ensemble
It Goes On and On - Britt Craig
A Rumblin' and a Rollin' - Riley, Angela, Newt Lee, Ensemble
Do it alone - Lucille Frank
Pretty Music - Governor Slaton
Letter to the Governor - Judge Roan
This Is Not Over Yet - Leo, Lucille, Factory Girls, Newt Lee
Blues: Feel the Rain Fall - Jim Conley, Ensemble
Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes - Tom Watson, Hugh Dorsey,
All the Wasted Time - Leo Frank, Lucille Frank
Finale - Ensemble
The Real-life Leo Frank Case
It began in August 1913 when a night watchman discovered the body of
a 13-year-old factory girl who had been raped and strangled. The factory manager, Leo
Frank,was arrested and
convicted of the crime, mostly based on questionable testimony by an
illiterate sweeper as well and prevailing anti-Semitic feelings in the community. The furor owed
much to the fact that the murder occured on the day of the annual Confederate Memorial Day
celebration. Though the Georgia
governor commuted Frank's death sentence (in the process ruining his political career), an armed
mob pulled Frank from his prison cell and hung him, amidst much celebration, from an oak tree.
(It is this oak tree that set designer has recreated on the Vivian Beaumont stage as a symbol
of the inevitable lynching).
Alfred Uhry's Special Connection to the Story. Uhry's great
uncle was Leo Frank's employer. Lucille Frank, nee Lucille Selig, was
an Atlanta girl and a friend of his grandmother's and he remembers her vaguely as one of her
lady" friends. People in the Uhry family and social circle found it painful to talk about what
happened to the Franks since it brought home to them that while they considered themselves
Southerners, the South looked upon them as Jews. The hush-hush surrounding the case fed into
young Alfred's lasting fascination with the case and eventually the idea of this musicalized third
part of his Atlanta trilogy -- Driving Miss Daisy, based on his grandmother, and Last
Ballyhoo which examined his family's Jewishness, or rather lack thereof. Like all his
plays, Parade is very much about the playwright's coming to terms with being a Jew but
much a self-described "Georgia boy" -- as Lucille Frank was and remained a Georgia girl.
Other Writings and Dramatizations
Besides the extensive press coverage, much has been written about the Frank case. One of the
books that greatly influenced Alfred Uhry was Night Fell on Georgia by Charles and
Louise Samuels (Dell, 1956). Other publications include: The Leo Frank Case by
Dinnerstein (University of Georga Press--2nd ed. 1998),` Harry
Golden's A Little Girl is Dead published in the 1950s and David Mamet's novel The
Old Religion in 1997.
Parade, while the first musical about the case, is not the first dramatization. A film based
case, Though Shalt Not Kill came out just four months after the lynching The 1937
movie "They Won't Forget" was a fictionalized adaptation, focusing on two men falsely accused
of rape and murder of a teen-age girl (a first role for Lana Turner). Claude Raines played a big
Northern lawyer who tooks the case. The excellent Lincoln Center Theater Review
includes a remembrance about the film by its director Mervyn LeRoy. A more recent
television mini series, The Murder of Mary Phagan, (1988) focused on Governor Slaton's
dilemma, as Alfred Uhry's book puts its central focus on how the the tragedy transformed an
arranged marriage between a Jewish Georgia peach and an uptight Northener into a love story.
A nonmusical play, The Lynching of Leo Frank, by another Atlanta
playwright, Robert Myers was produced by the Pegasus Players in Chicago -- its focus
is on Alonzo Mann the pencil factory office boy who came forward with extenuating evidence,
albeit 70 years after the fact.
What Is It About the Case That Continues to Fascinate?
This title of the opening touches on what is it about the case that continues to fascinate?
Besides the case's unfortunate timing on a
holiday associated with a bitter defeat and its links to prevailing anti-semitism, the case touched
on many other social issues which meant different things to different strata of society. For one
there was the South's emergence as an industrial economy that
sent young girls like Mary Phagan into factories and created a new class consciousness. For
Southern blacks the trial as well as the lynching had its own subtext. It was the first time a black
man's word was accepted by the establishment. Occuring as it did way before televising
sensational trials, the case also demonstrates the
influence of newspapers hungry to boost their circulation (sound familiar?). As per the opening
song in Parade's second act, "It Goes On and On."
Postscripts About the Main Characters and Events:
The lynching brought no arrests though there was wide condemnation outside of Georgia from
thus divergent voices as Rabbi Steven S. Wise and Booker T. Washington. The anti-Semitism
inherent in the case led to the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League.
Frank was buried in his native Brooklyn but Lucille Frank remained in Atlanta and continued to
sign all her papers as Mrs. Leo Frank. She became a saleswoman (what Atlantans called a
vendeuse) at a local
Jim Conley, the factory sweeper and key witness against Frank was given a year on the chain gang
for his alleged assistance to Frank in removing Mary Phagan's body. He did , however, spend
twenty years in the state penitentiary for an attempted burglary in 1919. His last appearance in
the press was in his 1962 obituary. The testimony of Alfonso Mann, an office boy at the factory,
pointed a convincing finger
at Conley as the murderer but, coming as it did 70 years after the trial, it did not change the grim
facts. While Frank was officially pardoned, his name was never officially cleared.
Hugh Dorsey, the prosecutor, reaped the wages of the sins for which he got
convicted (after a less than impressive record of previous convictions). In 1916 he became
Governor by a huge majority. He retired to
private life in 1921 thoug he later served as a judge of the Atlanta City Court as well as Fulton
Country Superior Court. He died in 1949.
Governor John M. Slaton became a political outcast from his native state, though he continued to
practice law. When he died in 1955, the Atlanta Constitution tried to redress the scorn
heaped on him with these words: ". . .it was one of destiny's mocking ironies his giant integrity
should have cost him his political life .
Tom Watson, like Hugh Dorsey, profited mightily from his bigoted editorializing against Frank.
His increasing political power won him a seat in the U.S. Senate. When he died in 1922, the Ku
Klux Klan sent a cross of roses eight feet high to his funeral.