Mob Mentality And Booming Bloodlust is examined within the context of a historical (and sensational) case of vigilantism in 3-D Theatrical’s long awaited revival of Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s gripping Tony Award-winning musical murder mystery/drama, “Parade”. Featuring a book by Uhry with music and lyrics by Brown, the project was originally co-conceived by theater legend, Hal Prince, who also directed its Broadway run. Originally presented five years ago at “Plummer Auditorium” in Fullerton, California, and hailed by many as among the very best offerings they’ve ever produced, it stands as little wonder that 3-D Theatricals has once again re-staged this stunning award-winning achievement with hopes of bringing its compelling message (coupled with some incredible performances) to a whole new and more sizable audience. Now taking its bows at two Southern California main-stage theatres, the first, “The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts” just completed its run having played for two weekends starting June 1st through June 10th. Now it’s on to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” where is slated to play from Friday, June 15th through Sunday, June 24th 2018. Broadway’s Jeff Skowron, Rufus Bonds Jr., Davis Gaines and Robert Yacko lead a cast of 47–many of them returning cast members from the 2013 Fullerton production. Directed once again by 3-D Theatricals’ Producer and Co-Founder T.J. Dawson, the imaginative choreography is by Estevan Valdes (along with Assistant Choreographer Leslie Stevens–who also appears in the show,) with Musical Direction by David Lamoureux.
Based on the actual murder of a 13-year-old girl named “Mary Phagan” that shook the city of Atlanta, Georgia in 1913, “Parade” is definitely NOT an easy story to tell nor watch, but 3-D Theatrical’s production is very much a sight to behold, take in, and be moved—even dazzled–by. “Unbiased’ is also one of this productions’ major assets. In fact, it could be argued that the true strength of Dawson’s direction is how, (unlike in several more recent productions of “Parade”,) here it’s not about whether “Leo Frank”—the man tried and sentenced, categorically committed the murder or not; it’s about the unbridled barbarism and ghoulishness perpetrated by the public and the press—actions which prohibited the real facts of the case from ever really being found out. In a like manner, building on Dana Solimando’s earlier work in the previous production, Choreographer Estevan Valdes also uses dance to illuminate and even subtly comment on the action, reinforcing the times while incorporating a few often fleeting terpsichorean surprises for those adept (or fast) enough to catch them. “Why Don’t’cha Come Up To My Office” is one prime example. Enacted as part of one of the factory girls’ testimony against her boss Leo, we see Frank cavorting with a chorus line of girls (some of them children!) While nothing overtly objectionable or salacious, it nonetheless gets its unsettling point across. Another encompasses the dance prelude to “Pretty Music” at Governor Slayton’s society “Garden Party” which Mrs. Frank crashes. What starts out as a lively “Cake Walk” (a dance popular just before World War One) look a little closer and you might notice that upon her arrival, some of the moves appear to be somewhat reminiscent of more ‘Semitic’ traditional dances like the “Hora”, as dancers promenade in a circle, then suddenly stop to gathering around one who stands in the middle waving her kerchief to the rhythm. (Either way, it’s a magnificent intermezzo that also helps confirm the fads, fun and fashions of that by-gone decade)
Moreover, in making this a ‘larger cast’ production allows them to explore more elements of the story—quite often subtly. Indeed, it’s often the smaller, more unexpected touches that here have the most resounding impact. These are evident right from the start as Tyler Miclean launches the show as a dashing young Confederate Soldier eager to prove his valor on the battle field, while Allyson Severyn is his bright-eyed and fresh-faced “Lady Love” Lila. Their song of parting, “The Old Red Hills Of Home” gives a glorious gulp of just what a humongous voice can this boy lay claim to! “We gave our lives for The Old Hills of Georgia, the Old Red Hills of Home. Not much survives of the Old Hills of Georgia, but I close my eyes and hear all the treasures we held dear…” As the song progresses, the soldier and his gal fade off into the background replaced by a much older man—dressed in a similar, though now faded, uniform, and walking with a crutch: The young soldier is now an old veteran, on his way to “march’ in the annual “Confederate Memorial Day” parade. Before he does though, he stops by a nearby cemetery, where among the tombstones he continues the song. There, keen eyes and history buffs are bound to notice that one particular stone bears the name of “Lila”—noting that she ‘died’ in 1861—the very year he went off to war. In just this simple bit of stage business, his whole ‘back-story’ becomes achingly clear: while he was away fighting to protect the land and everything he and his young Southern Belle held dear, not only did he sacrifice his legs and his youth, but by not being there to intervene, he sacrificed her as well—another victim of General Sherman’s ferocious Take-No-Prisoners “March To The Sea” circa 1861. This gives a strong emblematic understanding into the mindset local populace in the era this shocking murder took place–even Mary’s eventual funeral is segregated! Subsequently, the show concludes in another “Parade” at another celebration of “Confederate Memorial Day”. This time though things are different–we see that the District Attorney who successfully prosecuted the case is now the newly-elected Governor, riding just ahead of a group of marchers holding a banner that identifies them as “The Knights Of Mary Phagan”. (In-Point-Of Fact, Mary’s murder and all the ensuing outrage it brought about also inspired a resurgence of the KKK—widely believed to be dormant after the Civil War; meanwhile Leo Frank’s ‘execution’ also gave rise to the creation of “The Jewish Anti-Defamation League”—an organization which exists to this day.)
Jeff Skowron re-creates his Ovation Award Winning Role of the star-crossed “Leo Frank”, once again delivering a complete tour-de-force performance, meeting the requirement of his character’s description of personality/cultural affectations without ever becoming another overblown Borsch-Belt Yiddish Stereotype. It is “Frank” sometimes subtly sometimes overtly–but always masterfully–who ‘drives’ most of the action (even when he isn’t on stage!) “You want outa here?” his big, blustery Attorney cajoles him; “Than you better start actin’ like a ‘Good Ol’ Boy’!” When the timid Factory Manager is at last allowed to address the court directly, it’s in a riveting soliloquy-through-song that is easily Skowron’s most potent moment in this role and one that will resound long after the final curtain has been wrung down. Titled “It’s Hard To Speak My Heart”, he reticently intones, “You see me as I am…you can’t believe I’d lie–you can’t believe I’d do these deeds. A little man who’s scared and blind—too lost to find the words he needs. I NEVER touched that child! GOD! I never raised my hand! I stand before you now, incredibly afraid…I pray you understand!” “This Isn’t Over” as “Leo” learns about his wife’s efforts to convince none other than the Governor himself to re-visit her husband’s verdict, is also a substantial win for Skowron: “No this isn’t over!” He exults, finally ‘letting loose’; “Hell! It’s Just begun The Gallows are still vacant and you’ve got my wife to thank—never underestimate Leo—AND Lucille Frank!” Chelle Denton is also a force to behold as Leo’s wife, “Lucille Frank”. She too, has an expansive and equally expressive voice which she puts to venerable use right off with her opening salvo, “What Am I Waiting For?” wherein we become acquainted with “Lucille” as a disaffected housewife with all same dreams of domestic happiness as any young bride might harbor, but who has since settled into the reality of marriage to a dismissive, rigid and tightly-wound spouse like Leo, that has steadfastly begun to wear on her. Another impactful instance is her confrontational solo, “You Don’t Know This Man”, when she’s accosted by Reporter Craig—by now more driven to get a juicy angle on the story than in telling something ‘as trivial’ as the truth: “Ma’am, you’re saying that he’s honest; you’re saying that he’s decent…but Ma’am, you’re NOT saying that he’s innocent,” he smirks at her songs conclusion. “I have nothing more to say to you!” She then pushes past him with a mix of fear, despair and utter disgust. While in the first act, she mostly supports the goings-on, all that changes after intermission when “Lucille Frank” decidedly comes into her own! Her “Do It Alone, Leo” is a genuine Post-Intermission Highlight as she at last reveals all her pent-up pain–and even rage over his constantly ignoring or marginalizing her capabilities and feelings—to say nothing of how she can (just as vitally) help him now. Skowron and Denton’s “final” duet, “All That Wasted Time”, as the pair at long last truly ‘discover’ one another (albeit while remaining confined in Leo’s prison cell) is lush and romantic, but highly poignant too considering what must happen shortly afterwards. While it’s happening though, it’s clear that both performers have two absolutely brilliant voices that complement each other so wonderfully that it’s a bit sad in itself that the script and score hasn’t afforded them more chances like this one.
Another of this productions’ strong suits lies in how even the supporting performances are resoundingly strong and impactful. Davis Gaines also hits on all the right notes and shades of his character, as District Attorney (with designs on the Governor’s office) “Hugh Dorsey”, presenting him as an outwardly genial man who is secretly (or maybe not so) driven by his goals to the degree that he doesn’t care who gets squeezed, burned or destroyed in his laser-sharp focus on obtaining them! At the outset, when Frank is accused, so is the factory’s mild-mannered night watchman who initially happened upon the body—a simple and completely innocent–man of African descent named “Newt Lee” (played with terrific empathy by Bradley Baker.) After a few feeble attempts to coerce the man into confessing, Dorsey realizes that his career as D.A. would much better benefit from a little ‘variety’ this time around: “Ah, let him go!” He grimaces; “Hangin’ another Nigra ain’t enough this time! We gotta do better. Get him out of here!” That’s when his attention turns to the other ‘outsider’—a Jew and a Yankee named “Leo Frank”! Gaines practically glows singing his “opening remarks”: “20 miles is all it took to leave Mary in her Grave” he concludes grimly, even displaying the ragged and bloodied dress Mary was wearing when her lifeless body was found. This leads into Mrs. Phagans’ “My Child Will Forgive Me”. Conveyed and made captivatingly “real” by Jeanette Dawson—who herself gives a spellbinding performance as “Mary’s Mother”, this is a woman made pitiable to the extent of abject wretchedness over circumstances she cannot bear. Even with its jolting conclusion, this is without question a 14-Karat Artistic triumph for Dawson (—not to mention the entire show) as she gives full-vent to the kind of torment and despair which only a heart-shattered mother who has lost her beloved child can.
Likewise, previously seen in the prologue, Tyler Miclean also re-appears as the adolescent Romeo, “Frankie Epps”—a teen who’s a little sweet on our lass “Mary Phagan”. His resilient, likeably awkward attempts at wooing her titled, “The Picture Show”, as the pair ride on a Trolley car (–Yes! A bona-fide, life-sized Trolley-car!) while it slowly rolls across the stage, is a top-notch mood raiser. On it, we meet “Mary” as her would-be swain tries to ‘charm’ her into meeting him at the local Nickelodeon. (Even for a 3-D Theatricals show, which has frequently come to define the word remarkable, this is a HUGE special effect—and one well worth seeing!) Miclean also provides a highly affecting performance of “It Don’t Make Sense” once the tragedy has occurred, at Mary’s funeral. In passionately belting-out such authentic and unfettered emotion, you just may find a tear (or many) burning your eyes and cheeks as the overwhelmed boy asks God to ‘forgive’ him for the outright fury he’s feeling toward whoever did this to Mary, while trying to make some sense of it all: “God forgive me what I think! God forgive me what I wish right now! It don’t make sense to me that she won’t be around. No, it don’t make sense to me to put her in the cold and lonely ground –and NO, it don’t make sense the way the world can let you fall—I swear, it don’t make sense to me at all!” Although just about all of what unfolds in this story is because of her, “Mary Phagan” essentially appears in only a few scenes. However, rest assured that as the doomed girl, pretty and vivacious Valerie Rose Lohman more than makes her presence felt. We’re introduced to “Mary” early on while she’s riding on that fore-mentioned Street-Car sharing a delightful interlude in which she is bade to come see “The Picture Show”; Later she reappears in flashback where her ‘testimony’ (recalled on the witness stand by Frankie) is excruciatingly heart-wrenching.
Rufus Bonds Jr. too, supplies a standout job as “Jim Conley”. His take is wisely that of a man of color who (more than any other character in this piece) knows all the angles and isn’t afraid in the least to play them (“I tend to ‘over celebrate’ the holidays’ Jim grins coolly in the midst of his questioning after its submitted that he did some time on a chain-gang for a previous “Drunk and Disorderly” charge.) Bonds positively electrifies with his Gospel-tinged “Testimony” called “That’s What He Said”—during which he doesn’t even get Mary’s name right! The number builds and builds until everyone in the courtroom, now solidly convinced of Frank’s guilt (–including the throngs, crowding into the upstairs Galleries) are totally unhinged–raving “HANG HIM”! Later, in the second act we catch up with Jim again to find he’s back on that chain-gang and as unfazed as ever, but practically giving off sparks with his sultry ‘Ragin’ ‘Gainst The Rock-Pile’ refrain, “Blues: Feel The Rain (Hey Yeah!)” Stage Veteran Robert Yacko also puts his formidable talents into the role of “Governor John Slaton”, while Leslie Stevens is his perhaps a bit too elegant, though not-above-being-caustic wife, “Sally Slayton”. (Hugh Dorsey, as we’ll learn, is eventually elected Governor after Slaton left office, basically in disgrace because of his actions on Frank’s behalf.) Worthy of note also are Patrick Baptiste Jr. as a Manservant named “Riley” and Gabrielle Jackson as a Maid-servant named “Angela”, who together, combine their laudable singing talents into an A-Plus duet that helps stylishly launch Act Two with “A Rumblin’ And A ‘Rollin’”. Here, the two servants of color take a little bit of satisfaction that at least in this case, the one facing the hangman’s noose won’t be one of their own, as they bitingly exhort: “Old Black Joe at your service—won’t do nothin’ that’ll make you nervous! Won’t do nothin’ worth a look or mention—and they won’t never pay attention!”
The Scenic Design by Tom Buderwitz markedly consists of an impressively sprawling split-level brick “Factory” set, but it’s how he’s managed to open it up that proves his expertise, and the novelty of what he’s put before us. So too, the original costume designs by Shon Le Blanc and Alexandra Johnson make innovative use of color—inserting bits of veritably vibrant hues here and there (again, often in the most unexpected places) garnering great effect, while demonstrating that a drab “Factory Town” like Atlanta in the days just leading up to “The War To End All Wars” didn’t need to be completely dull and pallid. They also take full advantage of the often dapper styles of the day, whether they be worn to and for the legal proceedings, a day at a Parade, or to an upscale gathering at the Governor’s Manse. Jean-Yves Tessier himself deserves exceptional credit for his inventive use of light and lighting effects to influence the ‘mood’ of what’s transpiring on-stage—and where. One key illustration of this involves a ‘fishing’ scene that takes place out on a murky backwoods lake and how he literally transforms the performance space just by lighting it in a clever and intriguing way!
A grand and stately production by any measure–but also thought-provoking and even haunting at turns, after its successful two-week run in Cerritos California, “Parade” makes the move for an additional two weekends at “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center”, located at 1935 E. Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Redondo Beach, California. Opening Friday, June 15th through Sunday, June 24th, 2018, Showtimes for this engagement are: Friday, June 15 at 8:00 PM Saturday, June 16 at 8:00 PM, Sunday, June 17 at 2:00 PM, the again on Friday, June 22 at 8:00 PM, Saturday, June 23 at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with a final Sunday matinée on June 24 at 2:00 PM. Tickets may be obtained online by logging onto http://www.3dtheatricals.org, or by calling the “3-D Theatricals Remote Box Office at 714 589-2770, Ext. 1, Monday through Friday between the hours of 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM,. 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM Saturdays. In addition, the 3DT Box Office at the theatre opens two hours prior to performances. Group and Student discounts are available, as well as special $20 “Rush” tickets one hour prior to “select performances”.
Production Stills By “Caught in the Moment Photography” (CaughtintheMoment.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net ) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, Estevan Valdes, Gigi Fusco-Meese, Jennifer Nelson, David Lamoureux–And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2018 Production Of “Parade” For Making This Story Possible.