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Parade

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 it¹s 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. Phagan¹s 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 cry again’).

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 dramatic tone.

“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, that endures.