Alabama debut of "Parade" worth the wait By Alec Harvey
-- The Birmingham News November 08, 2009, 12:15AM "Parade," presented by Magic
City Actors Theatre and the University of Montevallo at the Virginia Samford
Theatre through Nov. 15. 251-1206.
Four out of five stars
"Parade" may be the best musical you've never heard of.
The 1998 musical won Tonys for the score by Jason Robert
Brown and the book by Alfred Uhry, but it didn't run long on Broadway and few
people outside theater circles could tell you anything about it.
More than a decade after its Broadway run, a re-imagined
"Parade" opened last month in Los Angeles and has earned critical raves.
Closer to home, the musical is getting its long-awaited
Alabama debut thanks to the Magic City Actors Theatre and the University of
Montevallo, and itıs well worth the wait.
"Parade" isn't your standard musical theater fare, which
helps explain why we haven't heard more of it. It tells the story of Leo Frank,
a Jewish man in Atlanta in the early 20th century accused of the murder of Mary Phagan, a teenager who worked for him. The trial was a sensation at the time,
with religious and racial tensions running sky high. With the help of his wife,
Lucille, Frank's death sentence was commuted, but he was lynched soon after by
an angry mob. Phaganıs murder remains unsolved.
There you go sing that.
It's actually a beautiful score, and director David
Callaghan has found some wonderful folks to sing it.
Topping that list are Chris Sams and Kristen Bowden
Sharp as Leo and Lucille Frank in two terrific performances. Both have exquisite
voices, and take us on quite a journey with the Franks. What might be an iffy
marriage in the beginning becomes solid and stirring, making the ending of
"Parade" all the more heartbreaking. (Sharp appeared in the first national tour
of "Parade" as Mary Phagan, so she knows the piece well.).
Many other strong performances are in the mix, including
Trent Loggins and Jeremiah Dawson, who open the show with "The Old Red Hills of
Home," a tearjerker about a Confederate soldier saying farewell to his girl;
Michael Stephens as prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, Lonnie Parsons as Gov. John Slaton,
Stephen French as reporter Britt Craig, Rickey Powell as Newt Lee, Cameron White
as Jim Conley, G.D. Johnson as Tom Watson and Emma Harper as Mary Phagan. And
Grant Bowen will bring a tear to your eye with his beautiful song at Mary's
funeral ("Did you ever hear her laugh? When she laughed you swore you'd never
The orchestra, led by Michael King, handles the
difficult music well, and Carl Dean, artistic director of Magic City Actors
Theatre, choreographs, as always, with a sure touch, and the ensemble executes
his work well. Kel Laeger;s set and Emily Gill's period costume help set the
"Parade" is not a breezy musical. Far from it. It has
some humor in it, but it's mostly a thought-provoking drama about the murder of
a young girl and what appears to be a gross miscarriage of justice that follows.
The love story of Leo and Lucille is at its core, and somehow, even in the end,