Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
A Look Back
Cygnet Theatre's extraordinary Parade must close this weekend. The musical tells the story of Leo Frank, a Southern Jew wrongly accused of murder and lynched by vigilantes in 1913. It ran only 84 performances on Broadway, many speculate, because it's a "serious musical." It is. And at no point does the Cygnet production pull away from, or sugarcoat, the subject matter. Or even take sides.
I asked director Sean Murray to look back, do a "post-view" on the process and the story.
"We talked a great deal about being sure we didn't judge each character or their point of view. Each person believes strongly that they are right, that their traditions, nationalism, status quo are worth protecting, that what they are afraid of is important to stop.
"We wanted to make (Jason Robert Brown's) Leo real. He was annoying. He was anxious, odd, nervous, elite, superior. But that didn't make him a murderer necessarily.
"I told David Grant that Dorsey ("lynch-law" advocate and later governor of Georgia) is the hero of the story, and is fighting to preserve what he feels is sacred. And told Geno Carr that Watson (publisher of the anti-Semitic Jeffersonian) is passionate about stopping what he sees as a danger from taking over the South.
"Even those that did the actual lynching believed it the enactment of a sentence handed down in a court of law. They called it 'extra-justice.'
"The first and last songs, 'The Red Hills of Georgia,' are not just the same song, but almost the same arrangement. That tells me these people don't feel any regret at the end, but validation, confirmation. Other musicals bookend opening and closing numbers - Cabaret, Sweeney Todd - and the reprise has some kind of new influence in the orchestration that tells the audience the show has 'learned something': 'Wilkommen' is more dissonant now, not the fun party that starts the show. 'The Ballad of Sweeney Todd' is more angry, more turbulent.
"Not Parade. It's exactly the same. There is NO growth. There is new confidence in unity, having fought back against the New South that Leo grew to represent to them."