Directed by Joey DeMita
Music Directed by Steven Bergman
F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company Facebook Page
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Watertown) A True Story: Mr. Leo Frank was infamously the prime suspect in the murder trial of a young National Pencil Company factory worker, Mary Phagan in 1913. Jim Conley, the factory janitor, was also held as a suspect. Frank was sentenced to death; Conley was sentenced to work on a chain gang. Later, Frank’s sentence was commuted in 1915 to life in prison. Local public outrage inspired a lynch mob to kidnap Frank, drive him back to Marietta, Georgia, where the murder took place, and hang him. Parade spans the trial and 2 year imprisonment of Frank.
F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company’s production is at times deeply touching and at others impersonal. The majority of Act 1 felt like a dress rehearsal. The performance trajectory of the cast did not reach beyond the first row, their energy was low, the ensemble was often flat. They weren’t listening to each other nor were they aware of their sound in the space. It wasn’t Frank’s trial began, specifically “Hammer of Justice,” a revival piece, when the performers finally hit their stride.
Act 2 might as well be from a completely different production. All of the negative aspects of the first act were corrected. The energy was much higher and the vocals were in tune with the orchestra. With a variety of enthusiastic dance numbers choreographed by director Joey DeMita, the cast came alive.
Adam Schuler was perfect as Leo Frank. Schuler gave Frank a quiet integrity as a poor gentleman facing a death sentence for a crime he might not have committed. He made the pairing with wife Lucille (Lori L’Italien) brilliant. He was sensible where L’Italien was romantic. Their chemistry lit the stage and inspired hope in their last scenes together.
Kelton Washington was exquisite and dirty as the simple Newt Lee and the dastardly Jim Conley. When he stepped on the stage as either character he immediately took control. Washington and the lovely Kira Cowan carried a heavy weight representing the vast, non-white population of the South that also suffered as a consequence of the racist actions of the White supremacists. They did so with aplomb.
Shawna Ciampa as Mrs. Phagan and Sally Slaton was a delight to watch. It is a shame that she did not have more opportunity to dominate the stage.
Lastly, Matt Phillips has a voice of an angel. He is a consummate actor and this production of Parade displays his talents excellently. From his heartbreaking portrayal of a young Confederate soldier during the Civil War to his very real tears as Frankie Epps, it’s enough to make a Theater Geek swoon.
The pit orchestra (directed by Steven Bergman) played perfect accompaniment to the cast from the first chord to the last. They were as one fine instrument and followed the cast during all musical numbers despite being relegated to the back of the theater, behind the scrim. The orchestra was so synched that they lifted the actors when they faltered like an instrumental parachute.
Just as true then as it is today, being a minority in North America means that some men (and women) are more free than others. The true events that inspired Parade sparked a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the South and still affect the Civil Rights movement to this day. Performances of shows like Parade are important to watch and keep current lest we forget the sacrifices made in the name of equal rights for all.
*****Updated to include photo; many apologies for not including it earlier*****