210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton
Through May 26
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m
Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
If there is one thing that I have learned from following the works of 3D Theatricals, now in its third season, it's that they would rather go big than go home. The group's latest production, the Tony Award-winning musical, Parade, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alfred Uhry, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is a perfect example. This beautifully staged musical theater masterpiece is one you won’t soon forget. Based on the infamous 1913 murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old factory worker in Atlanta, it is a tragic and layered tale of social and political injustice and anti-Semitism that, unlike most Broadway musicals, does not celebrate a happy ending.
Leo Frank, the Jewish factory superintendent from the North became the scapegoat for the crime, and Parade follows the story of Frank’s arrest, turbulent trial and untimely death. I won't lie: It's is a depressing story, but a worthwhile one. And the musical is so beautifully written and scored, you will appreciate the special collaboration of Uhry and the then-unknown Jason Robert Brown. It is a brilliant piece of theater.
The term “Broadway caliber” is a redundant compliment used often when referring to shows 3D has produced these past three years, and this one is no exception with wise casting choices, a beautifully conducted score, terrific sets and costumes, and smart and well-executed choreography.
When speaking with Director T.J. Dawson (he briefly shares this story during his introduction and in his director notes), Parade is the show that moved him so much, he was determined to bring it to the stage and direct it. The show title refers to the Southern Memorial Day Parade which was the day of the tragedy for both Phagan and ultimately the fate of Frank as he is paraded from his cell to Marrietta by a lynch mob. Included in 3D’s program notes is a snapshot of the history of the show and the sensational trial that inspired it, so if you arrive early, you’ll have a little reading to do before the curtain rises.
Written by Atlanta-born author Uhry, who gained fame, a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar for his novel and screenplay for Driving Miss Daisy, this Southern Jewish writer crafted the story, using flashbacks and elements of Southern culture, class structure and race relations reflective of the time – only 50 years after the abolishment of slavery in a city that was not welcoming to Northern Yankees in positions of power, especially those of Jewish faith. Partnered with music and lyrics provided by 28-year-old Jason Robert Brown, and co-conceived and directed by Broadway powerhouse Harold Prince, Parade received critical success and two Tony awards for Best Book and Best Original Score, as well as six drama desk awards in 1998. The show was not long for Broadway, but has had success on national tours and several professional and amateur productions stateside and abroad.
For this born-and-raised Californian, the South and Southern ways are quite foreign to me, but like any good storyteller, Uhry sets up the plot with a prelude of the Old South during the Civil War with “The Old Red Hills of Home” of Marrietta, Georgia, sung with gorgeous conviction by Jordan Lamoureux as the young soldier which transitions to the soldier as an older man (Robert W. Laur) to the year 1913 in Atlanta. The story unfolds, introducing New York-bred, Cornell-educated, Jewish factory Superintendent Leo Frank (Jeff Skowron) and his young Atlanta-native, meek wife, Lucille (Caitlin Humphreys). These two lead actors are wonderfully cast: Skowron characterizes Frank as the tightly wound outsider in “How Can I Call This Home” to the alleged sexual predator in “Come Up to My Office” to the caring husband in “All the Wasted Time” and Humphreys shows her range as dutiful wife to an angry woman with courage, determined to help her husband in “You Don’t Know This Man” and “Do It Alone,” and most especially, in her powerful duet with Skowron in “All the Wasted Time.”
The politics of the accusation, trial and conviction of Frank is layered in the story with a cast of crooked and ambitious characters, and Dawson cast the cream of the crop for these roles: the ambitious District Attorney Hugh Dorsey (Norman Large), the conflicted Governor Slaton (Robert Yacko), his elegant wife, Sally (Leslie Stevens), the Bible-thumping publisher with a hidden agenda, Tom Watson (Gordon Goodman), the muckraking journalist Britt Craig (Zachary Ford), the hanging Judge Roan (Robert W. Laur), and the career criminal who seals Frank’s doomed fate, Jim Conley (Rufus Bonds Jr.).
The coaxed and coerced witnesses include the Frank’s housekeeper, Minnie McKnight (Jenelle Lynn Randall), Mary Phagan’s boyfriend, Frankie Epps (Jordan Lamoureux), the night watchman Newt Lee (Harrison White), and the three factory girls featured in the testimony dance, Lola Stover (Renna Nightingale), Monteen (Jenna Lee Rosen), Essie (Brennley Brown); and a standout performance of “My Child Will Forgive Me” delivered by the mourning Mrs. Phagan (Jeanette Dawson). Dawson raised goosebumps during this song, a mixture of overpowering grief and malicious and hateful intent to push to convict Frank for the crime.
There aren’t too many nice guys in this tale, but Frank did have a few folks that treated him with some compassion, and these traits are well portrayed by his good ol’ boy lawyer Luther Rosser (E.E. Bell) and Frank’s prison guard, Officer Peavy (Danny Michaels), and of course, we need to mention the innocent victim, Mary Phagan (Valerie Rose Lohman), who we see often in flashback.
Rounding off the cast is a terrific ensemble featuring Connor Berkompas, Abby Bolin, Zack Crocker, Lisa Dyson (Lizzie), Allen Everman, Amy Glinskas, Joanna Jones (Angela), David La Marr (Riley), Micaela Martinez (Lila), Sharie Nitkin, Kirklyn Robinson, Ryan Ruge, Natalie Sachse, William Shaffner, Allyson Spiegelman, Christopher Van Etten, and Andrew Ross Lynn (Floyd McDaniel).
Directing this cast of 36, T.J. Dawson gives respect, reverence and emotion to this piece, bringing his vision of the show to his stage with the grandeur he felt it deserves. Parade’s choreography is cleverly conceived by Dana Solimando, with assistance by Esteven Valdes. I got chills a few times in this show, one of them during the suspended reality sequence with Frank and the factory girls in “Come Up To My Office,” the dance and portrayal is brilliantly disturbing.
The sight and sounds of Parade feature the grand set design of Tom Buderwitz, lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier, sound design by John Feinstein, the layered and beautiful score performed by the Los Angeles Musician’s Collective and smartly conducted by David Lamoureux. Period costumes by Shon Le Blanc, prop designer and Assistant Stage Manager Terry Hanrahan, wigs designed by Cliff and Kat Senior, technical direction by Jene Roach. Lisa Palimire is production stage manager.
Myself and many others were lucky to have attended 3D Theatrical’s first talk back, held directly after the close to three hour performance and it was one of the best sessions I have attended. The majority of the 36-member cast was present, that alone is a rare occurrence, and really defined how invested this cast is to Parade and the craft in general. Not only did students from the Orange County School of the Performing Arts attend, but many other fans of the show, who shared their insight and attachment to this special show.
There were a lot of take-aways after the powerful performance and the post-show discussion…
One hundred years after the crime, not much has changed in our society, which is still challenged with social injustice, sensationalism and exploitation. Parade is a somber and powerful reminder of this and a show that provokes and challenges you to think about how we as a society can stop history from repeating itself.