Looking mild-mannered, even Evan Hanson-ish, Ben Platt plays the real-life historic figure Leo Frank, a Jew who was lynched in the early 20th century in Atlanta. Lynching, a gruesome act of violence performed in the American South, and illustrated by Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” is not the customary way of doing away with Jews as we think of it. Still, this really happened. As the musical “Parade”—yes, musical—moves on to its climax, we see how justice works when zealous prosecutors force witness testimony serving their agenda, however racist. And, when an antsy mob takes over. Or maybe that’s the easy excuse for getting rid of “others.” Chilling, riveting entertainment, Parade, now revived at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre is so fiercely good, it defies you to turn away.
Leo Frank from Brooklyn as written in Alfred Uhry’s excellent script, seemed secular enough to endure the south with its worship of confederate ideals. The play opens with a celebration of those who fought and died for this land. Anyone wondering about sources for white supremacy, see it here, in the exuberance of those who fought the war—the civil war of course. Leo Frank’s story takes place some fifty years after, with aging soldiers, soil still blood-soaked, and blacks finding their way. A proverbial fish out of water, Frank manages a factory. A little girl not yet fourteen working there, is dead. Accused and found guilty, innocent Frank is set to die. Prodded by Frank’s wife Lucille, a stunning performance by Micaela Diamond, the governor commutes his sentence, and that’s when the mob hits, completing their blood lust, as Frank says the “Shima,” (Hear O Israel, the Lord is One) prayer to God, questioning what purpose this death serves HIM. Very Job-like—it’s a heartbreak.
The supporting actors are excellent—singing Jason Robert Brown’s score and dancing Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant’s choreography; they could star in their own play. Ben Platt brings his own stardom and followers of course, but, under Michael Arden’s direction, plays it low key, even when he sits onstage for the 15-minute intermission as if echoing the dreary wait for his foregone end. By curtain call, standing among his fellow players, taking bows, Platt — who deserves many awards and accolades — notes of this very specific American antisemitism, “Yes this was grim, but now is worse.”
PS “Parade” is a revival. The original version played a short run in 1998. It didn’t work despite Hal Prince directing, choreography by Patricia Birch assisted by Rob Ashford. Carolee Carmello was the star along with Brent Carver. All of these people are A listers, but maybe it was too soon, or the chemistry was off. The second time around is a charm.