Photo of Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt by Joan Marcus.
by Billy McEntee
Startling in its freshness and piercing in its performances, Parade has returned to Broadway offering one of the season’s most sophisticated scores and stories. Michel Arden’s lean production wastes no time, and neither should this review: this Parade, starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, is richly sung, thrillingly paced, and unfortunately timely as antisemitism continues to plague our nation.
Arden showed he is a master of building community in Once On This Island, a revival that so creatively crafted a tropical land even its gods were the stuff of its storm-ravaged debris. Here, Arden also gorgeously weaves a tapestry of Georgians: aging veterans, cloying politicians, and opportunistic servants. Racial divisions are clear: when the white members of the ensemble sing of rousing, patriotic “The Old Red Hills of Home,” the Black ones stand tall, take root, but don’t sing. Those hills are theirs too, but in the 1913 south, their chance of acquiring a piece of them is less.
Jewish folks, too, are seen as less in this WASPy South. Young adult Leo Frank (Platt) and his wife Lucille (Diamond) are upwardly mobile and looking to start a family when the death of one of Frank’s pencil factory workers, Mary (Erin Rose Doyle), leads to a scandalous trial and the prejudice that propelled it. Leo is near-baselessly blamed and is sentenced to hanging.
Penning a tonally measured book, Alfred Uhry efficiently moves through court sequences that give the narrative all the energy of an Aaron Sorkin work without any of the treacly moralism. Rising above legal proceedings is the Franks’ love story: Uhry does not make Lucille a blubbering victim, nor does he make Leo an angel. Instead, in his deft book, he examines how lives adapt and rebel in the wake of a kangaroo trial, and how the events that follow actually reveal Leo and Lucille’s marital imbalances so they can then find common ground.
Much of this insight is also accomplished in Jason Robert Brown’s propulsive score, richly embodied by an orchestra of 17. Platt and Diamond ground the story and sing it with blazes, as do other standout ensemble members, many of whom are given moments to shine as hot as the Georgian son.
Alex Joseph Grayson, a convict and member of the factory’s custodial staff, delivers barbed vocal runs, and, as Mary’s crush, Jake Pederson also animates young rage and racism’s folly to point blame to achieve quick over actual justice.
The cast fluidly moves across Dane Laffrey’s sparse unit set, which suggests the ghost of a court room, one that, as Sven Ortel’s projections remind us, still hums today; a final bit of flashing text shares that Leo’s case was reopened in 2019 and is still ongoing. Faithful to the material and the story that inspired it, Arden’s production is always just as immediate.
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre