Thursday, March 05, 2009

The good reviews keep coming!

From The Other Paper (my emphases in bold, and links to other entries)

Musical history lesson on anti-Semitism

By Richard Ades
Published: Thursday, March 5, 2009 2:22 PM EST

Leo Frank isn’t the most lovable of heroes. When he learns a 13-year-old girl has been killed in the factory he manages, his first thought is that it will look bad for the company.

And when he’s charged with the girl’s murder, he seems more concerned about his stomach than justice. He tells the arresting officers that he’s under a doctor’s care and needs a special diet.

As portrayed in Parade, a 1998 Broadway musical based on Mary Phagan’s 1913 murder in Atlanta, Frank comes across as so distant and socially inept that he might even be afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. We don’t particularly like him, but we have to care about him because he becomes a victim of historic proportions. In the news coverage and trial that follow his arrest, the fact that he’s Jewish outweighs the fact that there’s no real evidence against him.

In real life, the injustice that befell him was so profound that it led to the formation of the Anti-Defamation League.

Co-conceived by Harold Prince and written by Alfred Uhry, Parade humanizes Frank’s tale by concentrating on the relationship between this transplanted Brooklynite and Lucille, his Southern Jewish wife. At first, their marriage is strained due to Frank’s coldness and their cultural differences, but it undergoes a heartwarming change after Frank falls under the wheels of Georgia justice.

In Gallery Players’ production, the human element comes through thanks to Frank Barnhart’s unerring direction and a cast of almost uniformly strong actors. Thanks to the cast’s vocal talents and a band often dominated by violinist John-Rine Zabanal, so do Jason Robert Brown’s Sondheim-like songs.

Jon Schelb’s Frank is petulant but redeemable, while Liz Wheeler’s Lucille is a warm and increasingly self-confident presence. Both actors sing well, though Wheeler’s voice degrades a bit when she pushes it too far.

Many others stand out: Drew Eberly as a cynical and hard-drinking reporter, Jay Rittberger as the win-at-all-cost prosecutor, Sam Vestey as the overly confident defense attorney, Randy Benge as the surprisingly noble governor. Standing out most of all, LaRon Lee Hudson nearly steals the show once or twice as Jim Conley, a former convict who is suspiciously eager to lie on the witness stand.

Other than Joel B. Cohen’s overly dramatic portrayal of the trial judge, all of the story’s many characters are given convincing and distinct personalities. Director Barnhart has put together a wonderfully textured production.

Chris Clapp’s minimal set design helps out, as do Jason Banks’s sound and lighting design and Kristin Blascyk’s music direction (except that the background music sometimes drowns out the dialogue).

INFO: Gallery Players will present Parade through March 15 at the Jewish Community Center, 1125 College Ave. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $18, $16 for seniors ($12/$10 for JCC members), $8 for children or students. 614-231-2731 or

The musical starts out and finishes in an odd way, with apparently sincere salutes to Southern pride and patriotism. Given the storyline, this might be seen as an attempt to prevent it from devolving into a geographical attack.

By the end, however, the salute has taken on a new meaning that is as complex as the rest of this historically based tale. The final result is both provocative and moving.

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