Preview: Parade

April 14, 2011
Jason Robert Brown’s first musical, “Parade,” opens this week on April 14th and runs through April 17th in the New College Theater. Directed by Joshua McTaggart ’13 and music directed by Sam Schoenberg ’13, the show has an 18-person cast and is the only modern, non-original musical going up this semester.

The play centers around the true story of the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank (played by Elliott Rosenbaum ’12), who was accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old employee Mary Phagan (played by MG Prezioso ’13). The trial, which became sensationalized by the media, engendered anti-Semitic tensions in Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia. Leo is helped by his caring wife Lucille Frank (played by Amelia Ross ’14). Eventually, his sentence is commuted and he is transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia.

McTaggart says he chose the show for the amazing music and touching story. When sitting down to listen to the show for the first time back in the planning stages with Schoenberg, he remembers being enraptured by the tale: “From that moment I knew Parade was a show that the Harvard community needed to see; it told a story that I believe everyone should be aware of: hatred, persecution, isolation and redemption.” Though the story is nearly a century old, McTaggart argues that the prevalence of these themes today illustrate the awful tendencies of human nature.

Unlike McTaggart, who was just introduced to the show this year, “Parade” has been Rosenbaum’s favorite show since high school. Besides the fact that it won multiple Tony’s, he says it is a perfect example of a work where, “Music elevates the already emotional story.” Similarly, Ross notes that the show is full of variety – huge ensemble numbers are intertwined with more intimate numbers, but each piece is very strong and engaging. Both actors declare their largest challenge to be doing justice to the roles. This is a larger task in “Parade” because every character is based on a real person. Ross comments, “It would be too easy to create a caricature and to be very self-indulgent.  With the emotions running so high in this show, I want to convey a very real person with real fears and reactions.” After having done research on Leo, Rosenbaum also comments on the process: “It has been difficult at times when developing the character and learning lines and songs to remember that this is not just…playing a role.  It’s actually representing a person.”

McTaggart, too, noted the difficulty and the importance of making each character seem real, which may mean straying away from the classic “larger than life” style of many musicals. He drew inspiration from the more intimate London production more than the Broadway version to create this show. Overall, he is focusing on the beautiful people, Leo Frank and Mary Phagan, whose “story deserves to be told.” As one of the biggest student theater projects this semester, it seems clear that this production of “Parade” deserves to be seen.

Ryan Halprin, Harvard Art Review Theatre Board
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