In a departure from the often fantastic world of musical theater, University Productions tackles a serious musical based on a true story with “Parade” this weekend.
“Parade” tells the story of the 1913 murder of teenager Mary Phagan in Marietta, Ga., and the subsequent trial of her accused employer, Leo Frank. Frank, a Jewish industrialist from Brooklyn, N.Y., became the target of prejudice during the murder investigation and trial, which were covered by the national media.
Playwright Alfred Uhry first envisioned a musical about one of the century’s biggest trials because of his family’s connections to the Franks. Frank worked for Uhry’s great uncle, and Lucille Frank was friendly with Uhry’s grandmother. Uhry’s curiosity about the trial led him to write “Parade,” which debuted on Broadway in 1999.
“Uhry captures the turmoil of Frank’s struggle to prove his innocence and pairs it with a love story of the deepening relationship between Frank and his wife, Lucille,” said Meghan Randolph, a Music sophomore who portrays Lucille Frank.
As a result, the musical “is not smiles and tap dancing at all,” she said. “It really tells a compelling story, and it really makes you think.”
“The factual nature of ‘Parade’ challenges the cast to portray the characters as they were,” said Musical Theatre Department Chair Prof. Brent Wagner, who directs the show. To prepare for “Parade,” he assigned the cast books and articles to read on the time period as well as the trial.
“It presents an obligation to research the era and the characters that one wouldn’t have in a non-fiction musical,” he said.
The musical’s Tony-winning score also reflects the time period in which the events unfold. Composer Jason Robert Brown incorporated a variety of musical styles, including patriotic marches, blues, ragtime and revivalist tunes, into “Parade.”
“Musically, it’s a very rich score, but because of the wide range of styles, it’s a challenge,” he said.
“The crew’s efforts also help make the production realistic,” Wagner said. “Parade” requires several settings, from a courtroom to city scenes. With all the location changes, the crew uses nearly 500 lighting cues.
Wagner said he hopes the show will inform the audience about a little-known part of American history. “It makes me proud that we’re reminding people of dark incidents in the past that we shouldn’t allow to happen again,” he said.