Review | Ben Platt takes the lead in a too-stately ‘Parade’ on Broadway


NEW YORK — The state of Georgia doesn’t fare well in “Parade,” a musical with a big, beautiful sound and a book as serious as a graveside service. In this true account of the 1913 Atlanta persecution of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew who was led to the hangman’s rope for the murder of a white Christian girl.

Ben Platt, propelled to stardom. “Dear Evan Hanson,” plays Frank with an air of extreme coldness, an effect that lends credence to the musical’s suggestion that he is not the most sympathetic victim of injustice. Making its official Broadway opening Thursday night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, Platt’s stunning counterpart is Michaela Diamond, who plays Frank’s wife, Lucille. It’s a beautiful, beautifully sung performance, free of her suffering, of a woman who fights tirelessly for a husband who doesn’t know how to love his back.

Diamond and Platt provide the emotional backbone for a 1998 musical that it desperately needs. Much of the rest of “Parade” exposes the horrific corruption and prejudice of a time and place in which anyone who was “other” — read: black or Jewish — was deeply entrenched when the establishment went looking for a scapegoat. was in trouble. Jason Robert Brown has composed a stirringly lush, operatic score and intense marches and plaintive ballads for this haunting tale, full of pathos but not much drama.

As described in Alfred Ohry’s book, the grim horror of Frank’s fate—a vicious lynch mob rejecting the governor’s decision to commute Frank’s death sentence—fret “parades” with a weary inevitability. . You sit with a pit in your stomach for long stretches of the musical, as anti-Semitic editors and race-baiting prosecutors campaign against Frank. We know exactly where this story is going at every turn.

Director Michael Arden and set designer Dan Loughrey explore Georgia’s wild contrasts, nobility and prejudice, religious faith and immorality. Actors wait to be seated like venerable church parishioners in rows of pews facing a central wooden platform emblazoned with patriotic chants. We’re invited to think of Georgia as both proud of its Civil War past — and humiliated by it, as Brown writes in a warm ballad for an everyday Southern folk ensemble. The light is on. Among them is a grizzled veteran played by Howard McGillan, still wearing his Confederate army gray.

Counterpoint are the various scenes on this raised platform: Franks at home, Leo in his prison cell, the crude gallows from which he will be unceremoniously hanged. Frank’s arrest and kangaroo court trial occupy most of the musical’s two and a half hours. A small army of outsiders—among them Thomas Edison and Henry Ford—is noted as mounting a campaign to win Frank’s release.

But opportunities to expand the tragedy, to imbue the music with some glimpses of real personality, are largely missed. The show’s best moment is a deceptive number for Frank and the girls at the pencil factory he manages, who later admit to claiming he sexually harassed them. Interrupting his trial, Jazzy “come into my office” imagines Frank as a completely immoral cotton candy. Platt excels with this song, as Frank’s gruffness melts away and he dances with the cheeky confidence of a practiced seductress. The sequence’s bitter irony offers a brief but welcome detour into the musical’s mature progression.

As critically defined. “in the wild” which moved to Broadway last year and is now on tour, this “parade” was spawned by Encores! Musicals in Concert Series at Off-Broadway City Center. It does not have a concert format. For example, the orchestra is not on stage, there is usually a certain hallmark of the format, and the set and Sven Ortel’s period projections express a rich visual aesthetic. There are plenty of melodramatic flourishes in the directorial: the girl Frank is accused of murdering, the angel Mary Fagan (Erin Rose Doyle), periodically floats down from the sky on a swing.

It’s Lucille Frank and her complicated labors that allow us to see beyond some of “Parade’s” dramatic limitations. Steadfast Lucille must quietly forgive her difficult, distant husband for his cold treatment of her, while simultaneously defending him publicly. That the effort is quixotic makes it all the more touching. Diamond’s performance is a truly valuable asset, in a brilliant show that is more than smooth with good intentions.

The paradeMusic and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, book by Alfred Ohry. Directed by Michael Arden. music direction, Tom Murray; Choreography, Lauren Yalingo Grant and Christopher Curry Grant; Set, Dan Laughrey; Costumes, Susan Hilferty; Light, Heather Gilbert; voice, Jon Weston; Estimates, Sven Ortel. With Alex Joseph Grayson, Sean Alan Curl, Paul Alexander Nolan. About 2 1/2 hours. at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, 242 W. 45th St., New York.

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