Sunday, September 8, 2013

PARADE • R-S Theatrics

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish Yankee living in Atlanta, was accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan, an employee at the National Pencil Factory where Frank worked as the superintendent.  He was jailed for two years, then kidnapped and lynched in 1915.  So yeah, let's make a musical out of that, right?  In 1998, Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown did, and transformed these horrible real-life series of events into a beautifully scored musical that garnered Tony Awards for best book and best score, though it had a relatively short run of 85 performances.  It's a challenging piece, so what better company to stage it than one that seems always up for a challenge -- R-S Theatrics.

The play begins with a young soldier (Zach Wachter) heading off to the Civil War, taking in his views of the "Old Red Hills of Home".  Fast forward to 1913, and Atlanta, still bruised from having had their butts kicked almost fifty years earlier, is not a place where Leo Frank (Pete Winfrey), a Jew from Brooklyn, has ever felt comfortable.  As an outsider, he aloofly regards the South as "the land that time forgot".  His wife Lucille (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), a non-practicing Jew, is happy in her native Georgia and glad she married well, but is still dissatisfied with her lot, and in some ways couldn't seem more different from her husband.

Zach Wachter (Frankie Epps) and
Beth Wickenhauser (Mary Phagan).
Photo credit: Michael Young
On Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday commemorating fallen Civil War heroes, Leo has plans to take care of some business at the factory instead of staying at home for a picnic to watch the big parade with Lucille.  While Leo is at work, Mary Phagan (Beth Wickenhauser), a young employee, stops by for her paycheck, and the next thing you know, the police are at the Franks' doorstep accusing Leo of Mary's murder, whose body had been found in the basement of the factory.  While Leo is vilified by the locals and his presumed guilt is fueled by the newspapers and fabricated by politicians and ambitious lawyers, his relationship with Lucille beats as the heart of the piece.  Played out against a tragic backdrop, they discover their devotion and love for each other in the most trying of times before a heart-breaking end. 

Pete Winfrey (Leo Frank).
Photo credit: Michael Young
This huge cast is headed by the show's exceptional leads, Winfrey as Leo Frank and Theby-Quinn as Lucille Frank.  Pete Winfrey -- geez, the pipes on this guy!  He turns in a solid performance as the martyr at the center of the story, and his distinctive voice commands from his first number, "How Can I Call This Home?" through to his solemn end.  Theby-Quinn portrays Lucille's conversion from a remote Southern belle to a courageously hopeful defender of her husband with a beautiful voice and a convincing performance, notably her number, "You Don't Know This Man".  During the trial scenes, she's completely engaged as each concoction was revealed.  Their duets together, "Leo At Work" / "What Am I Waiting For?" and "All the Wasted Time" were beautiful.
Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lucille Frank).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Performance highlights include Wickenhauser as Mary Phagan, from her first appearance to later ones during testimony and flashbacks, and Zach Wachter who kicks off the show as the young soldier and as Frankie Epps, a young boy who flirts with Mary on her way in to work.  Marshall Jennings plays the janitor Jim Conley impressively, particularly during his bogus but crucial testimony against Leo, "That's What He Said".  Shawn Bowers gives Newt Lee, the night watchman at the factory, a deep, rich voice.  His duet with Alexis Coleman, who plays Minnie McKnight, the Frank's maid, "A Rumblin' and A Rollin'", where the domestics wonder if this much outrage would have been generated had the young victim been black, was another standout number.  Ken Haller does a nice job with his portrayal of Hugh Dorsey, the prosecutor and real villain of the show, along with Kevin Hester as Governor Slaton, who reopens the case.  The factory girls, Iola, Monteen and Essie (Caitlin Mickey, Macia Noorman and Maggie Murphy), sound great together in their number, "Factory Girls/Come Up to My Office" and Kay Love's testimony as Mrs. Phagan, "My Child Will Forgive Me", was tender and heartrending, with a sharp sting aimed at Leo at the end.

Ken Haller (Hugh Dorsey) and the cast of PARADE.
Photo credit: Michael Young
With a very minimal scenic design and set pieces being brought in for certain scenes, director Christina Rios had a sizable cast to handle, and the staging was good in the challenging Ivory Theatre, with the exception of the crowd scenes which sometimes lacked the frenzied energy needed to convey the passion and anger of the townsfolk.  Elizabeth Henning provides the appealing period costumes, and Nathan Schroeder provides the lighting design.  Musical director Leah Luciano and the orchestra did a great job with the score, made up of various styles of music, and made a big enough impression that I bought the OCR later that night.  There is so much weight in the songs of Jason Robert Brown, the show's composer and lyricist, with dissonant droning and haunting harmonies, and the orchestra and cast handled these quite well.

GP Hunsaker (Guard), Marshall Jennings (Jim Conley) and
Kevin Hester (Governor Slaton).
Photo credit: Michael Young
This is not a musical that gets produced very often, so it was wonderful for me to get the opportunity to see it.  Don't let it pass you by!  It's playing through the 15th with discount options to choose from that you can check out and keep in mind for next time on their website.  Go see it!


Book by Alfred Uhry
Music/lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Christina Rios
Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave.
through September 15 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Shawn Bowers (Newt Lee) and
Alexis Coleman (Minnie McKnight).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Pete Winfrey (Leo Frank), Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lucille Frank), Beth Wickenhauser (Mary Phagan), Marshall Jennings (Jim Conley), Ken Haller (Hugh Dorsey), Kevin Hester (Governor Slaton), Caitlin Mickey (Iola Stover), Macia Noorman (Monteen), Maggie Murphy (Essie), Shawn Bowers (Newt Lee/Riley), Alexis Coleman (Minnie McKnight/Angela), Kay Love (Mrs. Phagan/Sally Slaton), Zach Wachter (Young Soldier/Frankie Epps/Guard), Derick Smith (Old Soldier/Judge Roan), Bradley Behrmann (Britt Craig/Mr. Peavy), Robert Breig (Tom Watson/Officer Starnes) and GP Hunsaker (Officer Ivey/Luther Rosser/Guard).

Musical direction by Leah Luciano; asst. director.choreography by Maria I. Straub; costume design by Elizabeth Henning; lighting design by Nathan Schroeder; sound design by Mark Kelley; dialect coach, Nikki Lott; stage manager, Sarah Lynne Holt.

Piano, Leah Luciano; violin, Connor Coffey; french horn, Matthew Geary; clarinet, Michael Montague; double bass, Charles Schuder; percussion, Dustin Shapiro.

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