San Diego Theater Feature: PARADE (Cygnet Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on March 15, 2012

in Theater-Regional


In the NY Times, Christopher Isherwood stated that while the authors of Parade deserve credit for their fidelity to history and their ambition to probe a painful chapter in the American past, the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man who was lynched in Georgia in 1915 for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, does not gain any greater dimensions by being set to song.

To a large extent, he is absolutely correct.  It seems that the provocative material in Parade would be better suited to a courtroom drama than a musical.  Why, then, is a hardy recommendation given to visit the 1998 musical, opening this week at Cygnet Theatre in San Diego?  First, the disturbing subject matter – which no doubt kept audiences away in its original Broadway outing – is hardly depressing.  In fact, the issues raised in the story – sensational journalism, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, nationalism, mob mentality – are definitely brought to the fore and still resonate today, but Alfred Uhry’s Tony-winning book revolves around Leo and his wife Lucille, who fights for justice after the innocent Leo is sentenced to death.

Second, at the hands of Harold Prince, Parade was hugely over-produced in its initial run, which made the material more distancing than resonant.  Intimate showings, such as the Donmar Warehouse production at the Mark Taper Forum, have proven that this musical fares much better in an intimate space such as Cygnet.  A brave high-school production, staged in a tiny space in Fullerton, also proved to be mesmerizing.

Lastly, Jason Robert Brown’s Tony-winning music and lyrics are ambitious and thrilling.  The inimitable variety of song styles contain complicated internal rhymes which are impressive but never showy.  Agitated rhythms underscore a driving melody in one number, giving way to hauntingly beautiful ballads.

The exciting news for musical theater fans and devotees of Jason Robert Brown, considered the most exciting and promising Broadway composer of his generation, is the announcement of a Post-Show Forum with the composer and Artistic Director Sean Murray on Friday March 23.

When Leo Frank was taken by vigilantes and lynched, it became a pivotal cultural event that sparked both the development of the Anti-Defamation League and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.  Due to the show’s historical importance, Cygnet will be offering a wide range of Parade-focused Special Events.  Cygnet hopes to aid its audience in processing the heartbreaking injustices of the story and to offer an opportunity to explore our societal development and challenges.  Cygnet’s Special Events will include a “Cygneture Book Club/Write Out Loud” event: a talk with author Steve Oney, who will be reading passages from his book about Leo Frank, And the Dead Shall Rise (2003); and three Wednesday night Post-Show Forums with special guests from The Anti-Defamation League, The Innocence Project and members of the media to speak on Media Responsibilities.

photos by Daren Scott

Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
plays March 17 – April 29, 2012
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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