The year is 1913. Flags wave enthusiastically as the citizens of Atlanta, Ga. prepare for the annual Confederate Memorial Day Parade. As lively music plays and crowds celebrate, a young girl is quietly and brutally murdered.
The department of theatre and dance and the department of music’s production of “Parade” isn’t about sensationalizing the crime’s gory details but rather sensationalizing society’s reaction to it. The citizens and media of Atlanta become obsessed with the murder and subsequent trial, turning it into a showcase for blatant anti-Semitism and racism.
“I’ve been nurturing this production in my head for literally years,” said Director Randy Kaplan, professor of theatre. “It took me a long time to convince people that we should do this musical.”
Leo Frank, a Jewish man in charge of sales at the local pencil factory, is one of the prime suspects in the murder case. Even before he is implicated, the fact that Frank is a Jewish man living in Atlanta gives him a sense of being constantly disenfranchised.
The musical is based on the actual trial and eventual lynching of Frank. Senior Russell Allen plays the self-proclaimed innocent Frank and expertly gives him a sense of both realism and theatricality.
“It’s a fine balance to be true to another person but still be your own personal incarnation of the story,” said Allen.
Senior Alexandra Mendes plays Frank’s wife, Lucille. What starts out as a concerned housewife role slowly transforms into an outspoken woman who stands by her husband, even when all the evidence appears to implicate him. Mendes said that evoking this emotional journey and transformation was particularly difficult due to the historical context.
“[It is] a challenge to be true to this real human being who went through this very real thing but also incorporate how I, as an actor, feel about her and feel about what happened,” said Mendes.
Allen and Mendes play off each other well and share an incredible chemistry, whether their characters are laughing together during a picnic or yelling about the outcome of the trial. “[Allen and Mendes] have gone so much further than I even thought these characters could be taken,” said Kaplan. “They are performing at a level way beyond their years.”
Aside from Allen and Mendes, there is a large ensemble of students that portray the people of Atlanta. At times, various supporting characters step out of the group in order to interact with the lead actors.
While some actors occasionally dropped their southern accents, everyone in the ensemble brought an intensity that added to the overall strength of the show.
According to Allen, the ensemble is key to the success of the show.
“We would not be able to work at the intensity that we do if the overall environment weren’t so supportive,” said Allen.
“Everyone feels important,” added Mendes. “That’s not always the case when you have an ensemble.”
Standouts included sophomore Liam Enright as the boozed out reporter Britt Craig, junior Zach Ellingham as Georgia Gov. John Slaton and sophomore John Turner as Riley, janitor Jim Conley and Newt Lee. Junior Elyssa Ramirez and senior Elizabeth Sackett also leave a big mark with their relatively small roles.
Stylistically, the show opts for a subdued approach. The stage is almost completely vacant of props, relying heavily on a large screen with a projection of evocative images and phrases – such as headlines taken from actual publications with horribly defamatory language such as “filthy sodomite” and “negro rapist” – to help set the mood and immerse the audience in the era.
Occasionally, this proves to be distracting. Images don’t always fit with the scene and music presented in the foreground and it forces the audience to choose whether to focus on the screen or the actors.
The music, by Jason Robert Brown, mixes old-timey sounds with a contemporary style that gives the show rousing energy. The small orchestra appropriately oscillates between blaring during the intense trial scenes and restrained during the quieter, emotional numbers.
The controversial issues of race and anti-Semitism on top of the stirring music and top-notch acting make “Parade” a bold musical and provocative production. It begs the audience to reflect on the structure of our society and history while simultaneously providing joyous entertainment.
“Parade” runs from Wednesday Nov. 7 through Saturday Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. with a closing matinee on Sunday Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. in the Alice Austin Theatre in Brodie Hall. Tickets are $10 and available at both the Student Association Ticket Office in the College Union and the Brodie Box Office.