Rites of Man

This is to say the least an eccentric view of the case, even compared to arcana like David Mamet's recent novel, The Old Religion, which treats Leo Frank as a sullen existentialist, a Jewish Meursault. The musical's Leo, played by the almost aggressively goyish Brent Carver, is hardly more than a modular spare part. He does his big number not as himself, but as the girl-luring boss of the witnesses' rehearsed testimony: a comic turn called "Come Up to My Office" in which he prances like a cartoon dandy. This image doesn't come from the factory girls, who only said that he stared at them oddly. (He had the mild exophthalmia common in East European Jews.) Nor did anyone else try to portray this hapless, prim workaholic as a seductive boulevardier— until Hal Prince.

Jason Robert Brown's skillful and often likable songs fit awkwardly into the grim story. Brown's clearly drawn to old-fashioned showstoppers and period tunes: Carver's turn, a showily cynical number for Evan Pappas as a local newshound, an elegant fox-trot smoothly sung by John Hickock's Slaton as he romances supporters' wives, and a piece of fake testimony flamboyantly handled by Rufus Bonds Jr. as the sweeper. The score rarely rises to dramatic heights, and its attempts to do so are its weakest moments, like the final love duet, in which the Franks appear to be screaming at each other. Thick with fact, Uhry's book is sparse on the kind of emotional information that could broaden out into song; the story and its people don't invite singing, even of a somber kind.

Leo Frank (Brent Carver) and hostile witnesses in Parade: Can there be comic relief at a lynching?
Joan Marcus
Leo Frank (Brent Carver) and hostile witnesses in Parade: Can there be comic relief at a lynching?


By Alfred Uhry
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Vivian Beaumont Theatre
Lincoln Center

They invite acting, however, and as usual the actors are the occasion's heroes, making every vague conceit in the work seem strong and vivid. Along with those I've already mentioned, Kirk McDonald as the girl's would-be boyfriend, Jessica Molaskey as her stone-faced mother, Herndon Lackey as the driven prosecutor, and Ray Aranha as the corpse's stammering discoverer are all first-rate, while Carolee Carmello's Lucille is like a blazing torch that reduces everything else to dim shadows. With such acting, such care for the look of everything onstage, why should Parade seem so distant and insubstantial? Answer: Because it's abjured both the pleasure and the passion that used to rule the art of the musical, choosing instead to tell a story not for its own sake, but for that of some abstruse meaning behind it. In 1914 a Jew was lynched in Georgia: we've all been watching the president of the U.S. undergo a legal lynching by upholders of the rotten tradition that killed him. Bigotry, hypocrisy, and a distrust of otherness have never left the Bible Belt, only spread west and north from it. If this truth is too simple and too bleak for a musical, there was probably no musical in the case to begin with.

« Previous Page