In 2009, Center Theatre Group produced Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s Parade at the Mark Taper Forum in partnership The Donmar Warehouse. This celebrated revival marked a return to the Taper for both artists, with the World premiere of Brown’s 13 and Uhry’s Without Walls having played there just a few years before. Brown later returned to Center Theatre Group to conduct the orchestra for our 2015 production of The Bridges of Madison County at the Ahmanson.
With a cast including T.R. Knight, Lara Pulver, Charlotte d’Amboise, and Davis Gaines, the 2009 revival of Parade featured two new songs by Brown as well as several revisions in the script by Uhry, and was directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. The production was described in the Los Angeles Times as “a potent antidote to the jukebox mindlessness running rampant today and an urgent reminder of what contemporary composers are still capable of achieving.” The original Broadway production in 1999, which was also Brown’s first Broadway show, was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won two, while the Donmar Warehouse’s London production in 2008 received seven Laurence Olivier Award nominations.
The musical is based on the story of the 1915 mob lynching of Jewish factory supervisor Leo Frank, who was falsely accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl named Mary Phagan who worked at the same factory in 1913. The event became a national news story that was sensationalized in the press, which kindled antisemitism in the greater Atlanta area and the state of Georgia at large. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League was established in 1913 as a response to the wave of anti-Jewish sentiment spurred by this event. After being unjustly convicted of murder despite there being two other suspects, as well as a series of rejected appeals, Governor John M. Slaton of Georgia reduced Frank’s sentence from capital punishment to life imprisonment. Frank was sent to prison where a group of men angered by Slaton’s decision kidnapped him, brought him to Marietta, Georgia—Mary Phagan’s hometown—and lynched him.
The musical deals with the complex themes of antisemitism and racism—or as noted in The Hollywood Reporter, “government-supported bigotry against blacks and Jews (shockingly pitted against each other) and the terrifying power of mob rule.” Parade is set in Georgia, where Confederate values and Jim Crow laws were still upheld. And despite how the political landscape has evolved since 1913, as composer Jason Robert Brown described, “In the time we are currently living in, the story of Leo Frank is entirely relevant and sort of sadly obvious. This is a story of America. We can all pontificate about how we want this to change and how things have gotten worse or things have gotten better, but there is something about the American story that is embedded into Parade, and I think we have to own that part of who we are.”