(L-R) Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond as Leo and Lucille Frank in the 2023 revival of "Parade" on Broadway (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

On January 6, 2021, Kevin Seefried traveled 100 miles to join thousands who stormed the U.S. Capitol, and the image of him armed with a Confederate flag became synonymous with insurrection. He and his fellow “countrymen” ripped the pursuit of justice out of the law’s hands and took it into their own. About a century prior, in 1915, a mob of white Georgians drunk on Confederacy did the same — kidnapping and lynching Leo Frank, a Jewish man, after his wrongful death sentence for murdering a 13-year-old girl was reduced to life in prison. Leo’s gruesome story plays out on the Bernard B. Jacobs stage (direct from its City Center run) in director Michael Arden’s affectingly devout revival of the 1998 Broadway musical “Parade.”

Since history is on parade, let’s go back a little further. Confederate troops firing on Fort Sumter in 1861 marked the beginning of the American Civil War. Scholars debate the complex causes of that war but are unified in its result: In April 1865, the South lost. Forty-eight years later, when “Parade” begins, that loss is distorted into a triumph by a frenzy of white Atlanta citizens at their annual Confederate Memorial Day Parade. Southern denial of this caliber required a heightened level of white self-righteousness — a virtue threatened by foreigners, Northern industrialists and educated men. Enter, Leo Frank.

Act 1 of “Parade,” (book by Alfred Uhry) lays forth this contextual history, introduces us to the Franks — Ivy League-educated, Brooklyn-born Leo (Ben Platt) and his steadfast, Southern Jewish wife Lucille (Micaela Diamond) — and drops us into the show’s conflict: Leo’s indictment for the rape and murder of the aforementioned teen, Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle), who worked at the factory Frank supervised. 

Platt architects a Leo Frank that is crotchety even before he is put on trial. He laments about life in Atlanta, is uninterested in acclimating to the South — which makes it easier for the townspeople to falsify their testimonies in court. Villainous prosecuting attorney Hugh Dorsey (Paul Alexander Nolan) parades witnesses like items on a conveyor belt as they lie under oath: a trio of girls working at the pencil factory, the Franks’ housekeeper Minnie (Danielle Lee Greaves), a factory janitor named Jim Conley (standout Alex Joseph Grayson). Leecherous reporter Britt Craig (Jay Armstrong Johnson) exacerbates the situation with anti-Semitic libel, “That fella’s here to rape the whole damn South.” 

The courtroom is an enduringly perfect place to stage American drama, and Arden’s straightforward direction heightens the systemic sinisterness of Leo’s unjust trial. Twelve jurors found Leo guilty, and Arden keeps the entire ensemble onstage, voyeuring the action as if they are all responsible for letting the man hang. Diamond’s Lucille is a performance of terrific restraint — her wide eyes leak dichotomous emotions: public defense of Leo, private doubts in him.

Every time Diamond opens her mouth to sing, it is a divine revelation, but such is true of Arden’s entire company working their way through Jason Robert Brown’s delirious score of jumping horns, melodic reeds, even a honky carnival clown refrain. During full-company scenes, ensemblists’ commitment to Southern diction makes it difficult to understand every lyric, but their intentions remain clear. For a show with such devastating themes, these voices make “Parade” a thing of overwhelming beauty. 

Arden orchestrates the action on Dane Laffrey’s rustic, three-tiered static set of wooden platforms, benches and chairs. Projection designer Sven Ortel provides simple slides on the theater’s back wall, enough to differentiate ball room from jail cell  from lynching block. Most impressive is Heather Gilbert’s lighting — a sepia of Southern haze, a devilish red in the hate-filled courtroom, a lulling purple when time (and choreography) slows.

“Parade” is a solidly Jewish story, but cruelty towards the Black race is not hidden. Unfortunately, neither is it intelligently acknowledged nor redeemed. Brown limply attempts to comment on the Black plight with the Act 2 opener “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’.” Black company members — Courtnee Carter as Angela and Douglas Lyons as Riley — relegated to wordless servants for most of the production, come alive to perform the jazzed-up number singing, “I can tell you this, as a matter of fact / That the local hotels wouldn’t be so packed / If a little Black girl had gotten attacked.” It’s certainly true, but the duo only gets three-and-a-half minutes of the musical’s 150 to make their point. The lack of nuance or honor in the song, and Arden’s predictable staging of it, shine a light on this white male creative team’s blind spots. 

Both races are victims to the physical consequences of racism, but the show takes specific aim at a strain of American-bred intolerance that, to this day, results in the demonization of and violence against Jewish people. Towards the show’s final moments, Leo — dragged to Mary Phagan’s hometown, Marietta, by a carnivorous mob — stands on the lynching block. Once again, he insists that he did not kill the child, hoping truth will be his salvation. “Parade” is a historical work, but Arden knows it did not need a heavy-handed contemporary revamp. Hatred is always timely, and violence has long been America’s beloved spectacle.


“Parade” opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on March 16, 2023.

Review photo: Joan Marcus

Creative: Book by Alfred Uhry; Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; Co-conceived by Harold Prince; Directed by Michael Arden; Co-choreographed by Lauren Yalango-Grand and Christopher Cree Grant; Orchestrated by Don Sebesky and Jason Robert Brown; Musical direction by Tom Murray; Scenic design by Dane Laffrey; Costume design by Susan Hilferty; Lighting design by Heather Gilbert; Sound design by Jon Weston; Projection design by Sven Ortel; Hair and wig design by Tom Watson.

Produced by Seaview and Ambassador Theatre Group, presenting the production by New York City Center.

Cast: Ben Platt, Micaela Diamond, Alex Joseph Grayson, Sean Allan Krill, Howard McGillin, Paul Alexander Nolan and Jay Armstrong Johnson, Kelli Barrett, Courtnee Carter, Eddie Cooper, Erin Rose Doyle, Manoel Felciano, Danielle Lee Greaves, Douglas Lyons, Jake Pedersen, Florrie Bagel, Stacie Bono, Harry Bouvy, Tanner Callicutt, Max Chernin, Emily Rose DeMartino, Bailee Endebrock, Caroline Fairweather, Christopher Gurr, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ashlyn Maddox, Sophia Manicone, William Michals, Prentiss E. Mouton, Jackson Teeley, Ryan Vona, Charlie Webb and Aurelia Williams.