In 1913, Jewish factory worker Leo Frank was convicted of murdering thirteen year old Mary Phagan and sentenced to death. Following a review of the evidence, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; a controversial decision that ultimately ended Governor John M. Slaton’s political career. On 17th August a lynch mob kidnapped Frank and drove him to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, where he was hanged. Cambridge-based OneOff Productions’ debut offering Parade is a 1998 Tony Award winning musical by Jason Robert Brown, with book by Alfred Uhry, dramatising the events that led to Frank’s death. This powerful production, Brown’s first Broadway musical, is sensitive to the subject matter and features as its leading male and female, Leo and Lucille Frank, the outstanding Lauren Hutchinson and Steve Nicholson.
Director Suzanne Emerson must be applauded for her use of the performance space, which immerses the audience in the American South.
Nicholson plays Leo Frank with absolute conviction and a level of physicality that renders him completely believable in the role. All of the accents in the show are spot on and Nicholson’s is particularly good. Likewise, Hutchinson as Lucille Frank is equally as impressive and easily the most accomplished female performance in a musical I’ve seen so far at the Fringe. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, such is her remarkable stage presence as Frank’s headstrong (and quite frankly, incredible) wife. Hutchinson’s assured rendition of You Don’t Know this Man and the duet between her and Nicholson demonstrating the strength of their characters’ relationship, All the Wasted Time, brought a hushed silence to the audience. Another strong performance comes from Simon Anthony, whose voice could melt butter, as Jim Conley although the principal performers all do their roles justice.
It is a shame that other members of the ensemble aren’t always so impressive. There is some wooden acting (think ‘rhubarbing’) and audibility issues but these are more than made up for by the performance of the principal cast. The second half is far stronger than the first in terms of performance, though this is the reverse for the direction. Whilst well-executed in the first half, there is a disappointing 'gimmick' finale with some confused staging. Frank’s lynching could have been a far more poignant moment had the company not relied on out-of-place red lighting to make a statement, as could the moments involving unnecessary mask. That said, director Suzanne Emerson must be applauded for her use of the performance space, which immerses the audience in the American South.
The performance ends with a series of photographs documenting the real-life people portrayed in the musical and a final, haunting image that pulls together the significance of the events in America’s judicial history.