There’s a sense of justice being served, however belatedly, in the revival of Parade currently playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (just months after director Michael Arden mounted a production at New York City Center Encores!). Not only does the show shed light on the antisemitic charges, trial, and eventually kidnapping and murder experienced by Leo Frank in Georgia – it also gives a second life to the show, which itself lived a short life in the winter of 1999.
Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt are Lucille and Leo Frank here, a seemingly mismatched husband and wife. He’s a New York transplant and she’s a semi-comfortable Southern lady. After Mary Phagan, the very young woman in his employ is found murdered at the factory at which he works, sentiment leads the prosecuting attorney Hugh Dorsey (an excellent Paul Alexander Nolan) to arrest him – in an awful collision of antisemitism, racism, and public sentiment, it’s politically more beneficial to target a Jew than a Black person).
And so prosecution becomes persecution: a trial that we now recognize as a kangaroo court leads to a wrongful conviction, but Lucille finds the determination to clear her husband’s name, enlisting the aid of Governor Slaton (Sean Allan Krill, terrific) and also finally drawing the couple closer to each other.
Parade is best remembered, and most worth experiencing, for Jason Robert Brown’s Tony-winning score, which gets its due with a 24-piece orchestra here. But the ensemble is also on fire: Jay Armstrong Johnson as an unscrupulous reporter; Kelli Barrett as Mary’s mother; Eddie Cooper as the Black janitor who discovers Mary’s body but evades prosecution; Manoel Felciano, the epitome of damaging yellow journalism; Alex Joseph Grayson as a factory worker who will say anything in court for a price; and Howard McGillin as a wily, score-keeping judge. But Arden oversteps in places: most of the action occurs on a raised platform that set designer Dane Laffrey has placed at center stage, cluttering the surrounding deck with so many props that you might miss a key moment, such as when Diamond enters the scene prior to her “You Don’t Know This Man.”
Oscar- and Pulitzer Prizewinner Alfred Uhry’s book, which he has finetuned for the revival, proves to be episodic – the musical itself, like a work of Dickens or Twain, has its own complete sections within the narrative rather than threads that entwine from start to finish – and an unequal exercise in humanizing or lampooning its characters, who are either the embodiment of evil or innocence, but rarely something more complex. Worse still, Leo himself remains a passive character who never even gets a scene, moment, or song to reflect on his confusion or resentment at his changing – his worsening – situation. Without being transported into his head beyond his first musical number and without a portrayer able to provide a sense of subtext, or indication of anything interior, Leo is relegated to supporting role – a crime of its own.
Diamond, in turn, carries the show – an ever-changing beacon to inner strength and man’s ability to change. In an ill-conceived choice, Arden closes Parade with a modern touch that tries to tie a direct line between the hate of long-ago and society’s modern ills, an odd tag after a two-and-a-half hour production that depicts how complicated and deeply rooted enmity can be. But in Diamond’s eyes, found necessary hope – for humanity and for the theatre.