You may have missed the Parade….

Parade with Spotlight Theater Company has already closed but was an amazing production that should be acknowledged.  Even if you missed the Parade, keep an eye out for what Spotlight does next, it will be worth your time.

Based on the true story of Leo Frank, convicted for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1913, Parade recounts the press frenzy and public outrage about Frank’s trial, and his wife’s crusade for justice. Amid religious intolerance, political injustice and racial tension, this stirring Tony Award®-winning musical explores the endurance of love and hope against all the odds. (Synopsis taken from the Spotlight Theater Company Facebook event for Parade)

As a fan of music and lyric writer Jason Robert Brown, I wasn’t surprised to find that I connected to this show.   You may or may not recognize The Last Five Years or Songs for a New World (done often at the U) – both have his signature.

If I had to equate this show to any musical, it would be a mix between Chicago and Scottsboro Boys (even though I haven’t seen the latter but have heard the music).  In short, a murder, the press, some oddly light music for such a heavy topics and some southern style music.

The show begins with a ballad from a solider to his home state Georgia and follows through his return and his celebration years later. However, it took me seeing this show twice and reading up on the synopsis and history to actually make sense of this scene.  I think this was the writer’s weakness rather than the production.

In short, the theme of the Parade centers around events that happen on or around the Confederate Memorial Day Parade (hence the first scene and the title). Immediately following the first scene, we are invited into the personal life of Leo Frank (Scott Cluff), a Jewish “Yankee with a college education.”  The show is immediately set up with these contrasting scenes – a Confederate Solider and a Jewish Yankee – setting up the racial, anti-Semitic tension that eventually drives the media frenzy of Frank’s trial.

Cluff, portrays the humble, reserved Leo Frank quite well.  I certainly connected with his character and his wife (Adrien Swenson).  In a story of rational hate and injustice, the love that grows between these two provides light and hope.  Cluff’s “Come up to My Office” was creepy and jarring because it was so contrary to his character – it is still haunting me.

In addition, Andrew Nadon as reporter Britt Craig captured my attention the second he came skirting across the stage in “Big News.”   Having rushed out and bought the original cast recording the morning after I saw this show, I have to admit to liking Nadon’s toe tappin’ version more than the original.

William Cooper Howell (Jim Conley / Newt Lee) was another stand out along with James Naylor, Summer Sloan and Sasha Sloan. I found it impressive to have such a large cast and to have so many strong actors.

For a “community theater” company, I imagine that putting on a play with 3 people can be a challenge.  I can’t imagine coordinating a musical with a cast of 25+, a live orchestra, costumes, set, lighting, marketing, etc. and from what I hear, a majority (if not all) involved being volunteers.   Add to that, the risk of putting on a lesser known musical.

Director Brighton Sloan (I suspect we will see more of her), Assistant Director Carleigh Naylor and Stage Manager Briana Shipley pulled off a whirlwind of action, scene changes and in short – a large scale musical – with surprising smoothness.   I loved the orchestra (they were very good), even though the music was a bit too overpowering at times with the sound system.

A valuable piece of history, this show documents what prejudices, the media and those responsible for upholding our justice system are capable of.  There were moments that I felt complete outrage and disgust and more than once, I had tears in my eyes.  If for no other reason, people should see Parade to be reminded of what can happen if we don’t have the courage to tell the truth and fight for what we see as right or for those we see being wronged.

Sadly, this show has already closed so you missed your chance to see this amazing production (get the cast recording anyway).  In the future with Spotlight, you may not see a full equity cast, flawless scene changes or perfect sets and costumes.  However, you will get a night full of heart and a theatrical experience that is well beyond what you paid for the $12 ticket.

I would keep your eyes open for what Spotlight (they should get a website/Facebook page/Twitter so we can keep up to date) does next and if you’re interested in following some amazing local talent – check out the cast members of this show!

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