by Simon de Carvalho '14
There is something very challenging about attempting to make a musical about a serious historical event. Musicals have the reputation for being a little silly or light hearted.
So HRDC’s recent production of Parade, Jason Robert Brown’s Tony Award-winning musical chronicling the trial for murder and subsequent hanging of a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta, has a difficulty built in: It must at once be reverent and respectful to the story while still succeeding as a musical.
The story of Leo Frank is really quite sad. Though history has for the most part deemed Frank innocent of the murder of 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan, the townspeople were not so kind, convicting him quickly, and, when his sentence was commuted from death to life imprisonment, lynching him themselves.
On the other hand, the production, which finished its five-show run at the New College Theater on Sunday, was bold, bright and energetic. Most of this energy came in the form of Southern pageantry, which truly highlighted Frank’s outsider status and kept the show’s focus firmly planted.
The most stunning example of this came at the finale of the first act when we learn Frank is to hang for the murder of Phagan. As he is left to deal with the agony of his situation, the rest of the cast erupts in a lavish and celebratory cakewalk.
And this is where Parade really shines: It retains all of the spontaneity and showiness of a musical while still successfully eliciting powerful emotions about a serious topic.
Parade is a big, challenging show, and that Harvard undergraduate theater could tackle such a challenge in such a determined fashion—everyone involved clearly went all-out on this one—speaks to the strength of the program.
So while HRDC’s Parade may not exactly get you in the mood for celebration (and certainly not for a parade!), it will make you feel something strong, and that’s always welcome.