‘Parade’ Broadway Review: Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond lead exceptional march through history

‘Parade’ Broadway Review: Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond lead exceptional march through history

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Neo-Nazis tend to be a loud bunch, and it takes an extraordinary, confident piece of art to drown out their loud, ugly din. Paradewhich opens tonight on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, is that work of art.

With a fortuitous advertising slogan – “This Is Not Over Yet” – borrowed from one of the most powerful songs in a beautiful score, the cover of 1998’s Parade arrives just when it’s needed most, providing an eloquent response to rising anti-Semitism made all too clear by the hate group protesting outside the show’s first preview (they haven’t returned).

With a fine and large cast, led by Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond – two of the best singers currently on Broadway – Paradeset in 1913 Georgia, scores its hot spots with all the artistry and theatrical know-how to meet and exceed its lofty intentions. Parade is as big as any musical revival to hit Broadway in years.

Platt, Diamond (Credit: Joan Marcus)

Directed by Michael Arden, Parade stars Platt and Diamond as Leo and Lucille Frank, the real-life Jewish couple whose lives were decimated by Leo’s arrest and bogus conviction for the rape and murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. After his death sentence was commuted to life in prison, the case undergoing a reassessment that continues to this day – even car mogul and consummate anti-Semite Henry Ford doubted the guilty verdict – Frank was dragged by a lynching mob from his prison cell and hung from a tree branch.

Not exactly the usual Broadway musical stuff, huh? Still, writer Alfred Uhry and composer Jason Robert Brown delivered a musical (co-engineered and originally directed by Harold Prince) that was as engaging as it was poignant, making up for the broader scope of a lesson in story with a compelling marriage story in its complexity. and heartbreaking in its conclusion.

But even with a head start on solid sources, each production of Parade faces some inherent stumbling blocks. Move too slowly and the story becomes heavy. Pick the wrong performers, even in supporting roles (perhaps especially in supporting roles) and the balance of delicate power dynamics crumbles. Less than stellar singers, and here is a score that can fly away.

Arden, Platt, and Diamond ensure that this revival navigates these landmines. With a cast of 33 that includes stars such as, to pick a few, Alex Joseph Grayson (as a lying and twisted ex-inmate witness), Jay Armstrong Johnson (as an unscrupulous journalist) and Danielle Lee Greaves (as a servant of the Franks bullied into treason) – this Parade, which began as Encores! presentation at the on-a-roll New York City Center (the origin of the recent Broadway show In the woods), is quite possibly as good a take on Uhry-Brown’s work as most of us will ever see.

The ‘Parade’ Company (Credit: Joan Marcus)

Performed on a set designed by Dane Laffrey and built around a raised, square platform in the center of the stage reminiscent of the witness stands, boxing rings, wooden gallows and bandstands of yesteryear, Parade slips as the action shifts from home to pencil factory, from roadside to governor’s mansion, each change of location heralded via unsettling and often eerie historical photographs projected against a back wall. The characters are similarly presented, with black and white faces reminding us that the people we see singing and dancing once really and truly walked this earth.

Most viewers will likely be familiar with the historical outline of the story that begins in 1913, when Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jew transplanted to Marietta, Georgia, to work in a pencil factory, was framed for the gruesome murder of young Mary. The girl, a 13-year-old assembly line worker, was found dead in the factory basement hours after she was seen visiting Frank’s office to collect her paycheck.

Uhry’s book, without tilting his hand too blatantly, introduces us to Leo and his wife Lucille hours before the crime, their bickering over his job during the “Confederate Memorial Day” holiday, and his celebratory parade highlighting the fundamental differences in their worldviews as Jews born and raised on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.

“Confederate Memorial Day is stupid,” he told her. “Why would anyone want to celebrate the loss of a war?” Given that we just saw a brief musical preamble flashback to a young Confederate soldier parting ways with his hometown daughter – Stephen Foster’s number “The Old Red Hills of Home”, aptly sung by Charlie Webb, just one of many the overall players have had a moment to shine – we know immediately that Leo’s fish-out-of-water opinions won’t do him any good.

Young Mary (Erin Rose Doyle) is also featured early on, dressed in her new holiday picnic dress and clutching a white helium-filled balloon tightly as she exchanges a slightly flirtatious little chat with a goofy local boy (Jake Pedersen) for a movie date that we know will never happen. Mary’s death will soon come, signified on stage by the release and ascent of that balloon (one of the production’s few slips into heaviness also evidenced by the fact that Platt’s imprisoned Leo remains on stage during the ‘intermission).

Alex Joseph Grayson (Credit: Joan Marcus)

On the way to Leo’s inevitable, tragic and infuriating end, Parade introduces us to a wide and diverse cast of characters, including corrupt prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Paul Alexander Nolan, as exemplary here as he was in slave game), a guilt-ridden governor (Sean Allan Krill, even stronger than he was in Little shredded pill), a racist judge (Howard McGillin), an anti-Semitic newspaper publisher (Manoel Felciano), and the black servants (Douglas Lyons, Courtnee Carter) who can only marvel, with anger and despondency, at all the attention the hanging of a white man when “there’s a black man swinging in every tree.”

This line is taken from the opening number of Act II “Rumblin’ and a Rollin”, one of the many beautifully performed songs of this revival, from the bitter uplifting “That’s What He Said” to the deceptively sweet “Factory Girls” performed by a trio of Mary’s Liar Friends.

But do not get me wrong, Parade belongs to Leo and Lucille. For his part, Platt has no trouble reminding us why he became one of Broadway’s most beloved performers. Her voice here is breathtaking, rising high and falling low in a remarkably flexible, pitch-perfect, bell-toned performance, modulated for every emotional nuance of a score that strikes notes of vaudeville, pop ballad and musical theatre. While Platt’s onscreen performances to date have been a bit hit and miss, and if his Leo could testify a bit more to the wear and tear endured by two years in a Georgia prison, his stage presence, his acting chops and his singing prowess put him near the top of the Broadway stars of his generation.

Diamond matches Platt step by step and note for note, a delightfully unexpected achievement for a relative newcomer who made her Broadway debut as one of the Dear in 2018’s largely forgettable jukebox musical. The Dear Show. Platt-Diamond duets like “Leo At Work / What Am I Waiting For?”, “All the Wasted Time” and, most importantly, “This Is Not Over Yet” are jaw-dropping, their vocals interlocking in such a way that hardly suggested during their remarkable solo numbers (“Leo’s Statement: It’s Hard to Speak My Heart” by Platt, “You Don’t Know This Man” by Diamond).

Director Arden and choreographers Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant don’t skimp on big ensemble numbers either, hitting a catchy (and menacing) “Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes?”

Of course, we know where that crowd will be after the Flood, but that knowledge does little to soften the blow when Platt’s Leo, clad only in the nightgown he wore when he was abducted (the work of costume designer Susan Hilferty is top notch), falls to her death in a bit of staging which, while not as breathless as a similar scene in last year hangedalways packs its punch.

In a brief coda that jumps to the present day, the actors who played this long-ago Confederate soldier and his sweetheart take the stage in modern attire as a young couple happily picnicking at the very site where a plaque marks the place of Frank’s lynching. It’s a deliberately ambiguous scene, maybe hopeful, more likely not. A projection reminds that Frank’s case, reopened in 2019, officially remains unsolved.

Title: Parade
Place: Bernard B. Jacobs Broadway Theater
Director: Michael Arden
Book: Alfred Uhry
Music: Jason Robert Brown
Discard: Ben Platt, Micaela Diamond, Alex Joseph Grayson, Sean Allan Krill, Howard McGillin, Paul Alexander Nolan, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Kelli Barrett, Courtnee Carter, Eddie Cooper, Erin Rose Doyle, Manoel Felciano, Tony Award nominee, Danielle Lee Greaves, Douglas Lyons, Jake Pedersen, Florrie Bagel, Stacie Bono, Max Chernin, Emily Rose DeMartino, Christopher Gurr, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ashlyn Maddox, Sophia Manicone, William Michals, Jackson Teeley, Charlie Webb.

Operating time: 2h30 (including intermission)

#Parade #Broadway #Revue #Ben #Platt #Micaela #Diamond #Lead #Exceptional #Mars #History

#Parade #Broadway #Review #Ben #Platt #Micaela #Diamond #lead #exceptional #march #history