by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Don’t let the Players by the Sea production of Parade pass you by. If you are reading this before July 31 and want to see the show, call 904-249-0289 and you may be able to get tickets. The first two weekends were sold out and there are only eight performances. The Dual Critics were out of town at the American Theatre Critics convention so were unable to review it the first weekend.
Tickets to Players’ summer musicals are becoming hard to get for a couple of reasons; Players does what they do so well, and they do musicals that you just can’t see anywhere else in this area for the most part. Bat Boy, The Musical, Sweeney Todd, Urinetown, and Hair, were all sellouts and next summer’s Tommy will be a hot ticket as well.
Even if your taste in musicals tends to the light, breezy and carefree type, you still may want to consider seeing Parade , which is a serious-minded and very somber show about a true incident in American history.
The musical is based on the story of a 14-year-old girl who was murdered at a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia in 1913. Leo Frank, the factory manager, is an immediate suspect in the killing because he was at the factory on the day of the murder and he does not quite fit the Southern model. He is Jewish, from the North, and a quiet, somewhat introverted man. The prosecuting attorney, played with pure evil by Bill Ratliff, has political ambitions and a conviction could give him the votes he needs to be governor. The local authorities want a conviction to divert attention from critics of child labor. Prejudice against Blacks and Jews prevailed in Southern society in that time and figure prominently in the story.
We usually don’t reveal endings but the story is well known; the play ends with Leo Frank being seized from jail and lynched by a mob.
The book, by playwright Alfred Uhry (of Driving Miss Daisy and Last Night at Ballyhoo fame), is excellent and faithfully depicts the events that occurred without making a hero of Leo Frank. Uhry has a connection to the characters; his great-uncle was the owner of the factory that Leo Frank managed. The music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown are the reasons this show won a Tony despite the fact that it ran for only 85 performances.
This musical has not been widely done due to the subject matter and the fact that it is demanding for the performers and can be difficult to stage. Director Michael Lipp loaded this cast of 30 with the best talent in town. The performers in a show can make a big difference in the box office, as we have seen time and time again.
The two leading characters played by Josh Waller (Leo Frank) and Stacy Cobb (Lucille Frank), have done a number of shows together and have incredible chemistry which was evident in this musical. Both have marvelous voices and sing poignant songs, filled with the ultimate in emotion and feeling, as the characters find their love and commitment deepening. You won’t walk out humming the music but you will be impressed the way it moves the music along, and by the diverse musical styles.
Parade has so many strong supporting roles that to single out each individual excellence would be just to restate the entire cast list.
Lee Hamby designed the two-tiered multipurpose set that is the prison, the court house, the Frank home as well as the factory. With a Confederate flag that spans the stage, the visual impact is overwhelming. Hamby also designed the costumes, in simple styles and subdued neutral colors, which were appropriate to the era. Lee is so involved in so many aspects of theatre production at Players we almost forget he is a magnificent performer, as he proves in this show as the opportunistic newspaper reporter Britt Craig.
Samuel Clein as Musical Director was also on the piano, leading the band as they played to perfection. The band included Laura Peden(Keyboard 2), Bryant Miano (Keyboard 3), Brooke Dansberger (Reed 1) Ricardo Lastrapes (Reed 2), Vin Sowders (Trumpet), Larisa Melkumova (Trombone) and Michael Tillis (Percussion).
We would be remiss if we did mention the excellent program or playbill for this production that was assembled by Executive Director Joe Schwarz. Not only does it contain the most complete biographies we have ever seen in a play program but also includes detailed production comments by Director Michael Lipp. The playbill also contained “the rest of the story” or what happened beyond the events in the play to the major characters in their real lives.
The production team included those mentioned and Kat McLeod (Stage Manager), Miranda Lawson(Assistant Music Director), Joseph Schwarz (Lighting design), Jim Wiggins (Technical Director), Kellina Chavoustie (Choreographic Assistance), Timothy Lenoir(Poster Design).
Cast includes: Steven Anderson, Jr. (Jim Conley), Gary Baker (Ensemble), Robert Banks (Tom Watson), Staci Cobb (Lucille Frank), Tracey Davis (Monteen), J’royce Denard-Walton (Riley), Julia Fallon (Ensemble) Evan Gould (Mr. Peavy/Floyd McDaniel), Judy Gould (Ensemble) Jeff Grove (Luther Rosser), Lee Hamby (Britt Craig), Mary Povia Herrington (Lola Stover), Stephen Michael Johns (Young Soldier.Fiddlin John), Maisaa Kayal (Essie), Dominique Allen Lawson (Leroy), Miranda Lawson (Angela), Eugene Lindsey (Newt Lee), Dr. Roger Lowe (Governor Slaton), Christy Mull (Betty Jean), Bill Ratliff (Hugh Dorsey), Leslie Richart (Mrs Phagan), Chris Robertson (Frankie Epps), Katie Sacks (Mary Phagan), Zeek Smith (Det. J. N. Starnes) Emily Suarze (Lizzie Phagan) Joshua Taylor (Officer Ivey), Josh Waller (Leo Frank), Jeff Wells (Prison Guard), Bill White (Old Soldier/Judge Roan) and Stacy Williams (Sally Slaton).
Players by the Sea doesn’t address risk in their mission statement, but what appears to be part of their thinking is that theatre is an adventure and a risk; at times an expensive risk, but accepting that risk can lead to exciting and interesting theatre productions. Players occasionally takes a gamble but always rolls a seven.
You are forewarned. The Full Monty opens the season on September 17th and we are betting that it too will be a sellout. Buy your tickets early. Call 904-249-0289 or visit www.playersbythesea.org for additional information.
PARADE theatre review
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM