By Jillian LaFeir
Last week, as part of its annual gala presentation, off-Broadway’s New York City Center produced the timely story of the trial of Leo Frank, performed by the musical powerhouse Ben Platt, in a seven-performance production of Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade.” The 1998 Broadway classic tells the tragic story of Leo Frank, who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1913. As seen in the show, Frank’s trial more closely resembled the acts of a circus than those of a court of law, as his offense was largely based on blatant antisemitism.
While Frank was sentenced to death, his wife, Lucille, performed by the shining Michaela Diamond, fought tirelessly to appeal his sentence. Still, just as it seemed public opinion could be swayed and Leo Frank could walk free, he was lynched in 1915.
After nearly 25 years since its last performance, the revival of “Parade” could not have come at a better time.
“Parade” feels more like watching a live-action rendition of the weekly headline than it does a piece of musical theater. It was hard to take notice of the larger-than-life, sensationalized spectacles often exploding all over a Broadway stage because this true story retold today felt too real.
While the musical talent in this production was nothing short of phenomenal as the voices of Platt and Diamond performed together, they often were subdued and crushed under the heaviness of the subject. As an avid Platt apologist who agreed with his performance in the Dear Evan Hansen movie, I have been convincing myself that his lackluster performance was a creative choice to subordinate himself as his character had been.
Still, I acknowledge that it could have also been just that — lackluster. You know it was a bad night if he was being outsung by Gaten Matarazzo who played Dustin from “Stranger Things.” The most memorable moment of the show came during intermission. Such a statement may seem facetious, but I mean it when I say the intermission was truly remarkable.
As the first act comes to a close, the last notes are sung, the actors scurry off stage and the lights come up, the curtains never close, and Ben Platt never leaves the stage. Immediately people pop up to get a good spot in line for the bathroom or to refill their drinks, but do they not realize Ben Platt is still on stage? Are we allowed to be moving around, talking?
After the initial shock subsides, if you are one of the lucky ones whose bladder is not yet full, your eyes are glued to the stage where Platt sits at a small wooden table with his back turned to the crowd. At this moment in the show, Frank has just been sentenced to death, and we watch him sit with his sentence hopelessly. Eventually, your mind begins to wander as you feel the despair radiating off the stage as people just walk on by. It makes you think of the climate for Jewish people today.
While the set design and wardrobe largely rely on shades of brown to mimic a sepia washing over the stage to symbolize the story taking place in the past, is this really a distant story? Every day in the news, another synagogue is targeted or another celebrity is committing hate speech and we all just carry on with our lives, but as for the rest of us in the Jewish community, you can’t help but wonder — how long until I’m next?