Review: Parade (Writers Theatre)

| June 12, 2017

Patrick Andrews and Brianna Borger star as Leo and Lucille Frank in Parade at Writers Theatre           

By Jason Robert Brown (music, lyrics)
     and Alfred Uhry (book)
Writers Theatre, Glencoe (map)
thru July 9  |  tix: $35-$80  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

    Now extended thru July 9th


Don’t let this sumptuous, enthralling ‘Parade’ pass you by


Jake Nicholson stars as Frankie Epps in Parade, Writers Theatre

Writers Theatre presents

Review by Catey Sullivan

Parade opens with a solemn drum cadence, a thrumming, insistent tattoo that precedes and then underscores a haunting male solo. The singer is a young Confederate soldier, the song an ode to his beloved Georgia. He’s standing in a pool of golden light, straight-backed and proud in Confederate gray, emanating idealism and vigor as he marches off to a war he is certain will end in glory.

Parade the Musical presented by Writers TheatreMidway through “The Old Red Hills of Georgia,” the young soldier recedes into shadow. In his place, a ravaged, limping veteran emerges, eyes like hollows and a voice that’s edged with bitterness and grief. It’s a song of the south that bookends Parade, and informs a production that will leave you haunted. Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Alfred Uhry’s (book) musical takes place some 50 years after the Civil War officially ended. But as director Gary Griffin makes tragically clear, the post-war South was as enduringly brutal, violent and racist as it was in the antebellum era when cotton was king and white plantation owners absolute monarchs over all they surveyed.

The lynching of Leo Frank was steeped in the lingering rage that followed the war, and in the the toxic history of a land where Klan membership was honorable and where anyone who wasn’t white and “Christian” was viewed as less than human. Parade would be a grim bit of business were it only an exploration of a warped and ugly place where blood thirsty mobs dished out “justice” as they saw fit. But Parade is also a story of love so strong and sublime, not even a noose has the power to snuff it out.

Under Griffin’s direction, it is an exquisitely rendered ensemble piece defined by richly nuanced performances and sonic majesty. Anchored by Patrick Andrews as Leo Frank, Parade is stunning from that austere, somber opening to the cadence that closes the piece.

Frank’s story is one of the many blots in Georgia’s ugly history. Frank was a Brooklyn-born Jew who moved to Atlanta after marrying his southern-born bride Lucille (Brianna Borger). Frank hated the south, but he loved Lucille. Moreover, he had a good job as a supervisor in a pencil factory. Their marriage was happy enough to make his status as a perpetual outsider tolerable. Frank would never understand southerners, and vice versa. But in Lucille, he had a soulmate.

Brianna Borger, Nicole Michelle Haskins and Derek Hasenstab star in Parade, Writers TheatreJake Nicholson and Caroline Heffernan star as Frankie Epps and Mary Phagan Patrick Andrews and Brianna Borger star as Leo and Lucille Frank in Parade, Writers Theatre GlencoeDevin DeSantis stars as Britt Craig in Parade, Writers Theatre Brianna Borger stars as Lucille Frank in Parade, Writers Theatre

The Franks’ domestic bliss was forever upended when 13-year-old Mary Phagan (Caroline Heffernan) was found murdered in the factory basement. Leo, already an object of mistrust, derision and fear, was immediately charged with the crime. He was summarily tried and sentenced to death, even though there was virtually no evidence against him. The courtroom proceedings were ludicrous, pure political theater that had nothing to do with justice. The stakes weren’t Frank’s life and death – they were whether Georgia would elect a new governor.

“We can’t afford to hang another Negro,” says Atlanta prosecuting attorney (and eventual gubernatorial front-runner) Hugh Dorsey (Kevin Gudahl), “We have to do better with this one.” In this case. “better” meant hanging a Jew instead of a Black man.

Griffin has packed the production with memorable visuals, including a flag-cloaked Act I finale that foreshadows the massive, black-and-red bunting the Nazis would drape over Germany some 20 years later. It’s an optic that shows Frank literally swallowed up by the bloodlust surrounding him, and it might give you nightmares.

The cast makes the show’s moments of beauty resonate as well, nowhere so much as during “All the Wasted Time,” a love song between Lucille and Leo. Borger has a voice that’s both powerful and overflowing with the kind of emotion that defies expression in non-sung dialogue. She’s at her best here, portraying a woman whose unwavering strength is mighty enough to defeat the most formidable foes. The chemistry between Borger and Andrews is electric – you can practically see the sparks generated by their passion, be it physical or emotional or a white-hot combustible combination of both.

As Frank, Andrews creates a character who on the surface seems ordinary, soft-spoken and unremarkable. But in Frank’s unassuming demeanor, Andrews finds a streak of unbreakable heroism. Frank maintains his dignity in the most cruelly humiliating of circumstances – he personifies grace under the most extreme pressure. Frank may seem quiet, but his ability to rise above his legal circumstances has the strength of thousands shouting.

Jonathan Butler-Duplessis stars as Jim Conley in Parade, Writers TheatrePatrick Andrews stars as Leo Frank in Parade, Writers Theatre Patrick Andrews and Brianna Borger star as Leo and Lucille Frank in Parade, Writers Theatre

Griffin’s supporting cast is superb. As John Conley, a chain gang member whose testimony is crucial to Frank’s case, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis stops the show cold with the raw, gritty “Blues: Feel the Rain Fall.” The number comes as Conley is laboring shackled under the relentless Georgia sun. As Butler-Duplessis muscles through it, you’d swear you could smell the sweat and the dirt and the despair of the prison farm.

Nicole Michelle Haskins and Jonah D. Winston also deliver on “Rumblin’ and a Rollin,” a number that shows how a pair of African American servants view the hoopla over Frank’s conviction. The duo are literally sipping their tea while the white folks work themselves into a senseless frenzy.

As Mary Phagan, Heffernan has the youthful spark and wide-eyed innocence of a 13-year-old child, and the sassiness of a young woman just beginning to realize her powers. Gudahl makes prosecuting attorney Dorsey as slick and nasty as custard just past its prime. And as the eventually conscience-stricken Governor Slaton, Derek Hasenstab shows the gradual evolution of a leader who comes to the troubling realization that he cannot be a part of mob “justice.” Also memorable is Jeff Parker, who plays politico Tom Watson as a southern-bred Mephistopheles.

Under music director Michael Mahler’s baton, Parade sounds magnificent. This is a production of outsize emotion, and it falls to the music to capture what spoken words cannot. Mahler makes that happen, from the seamless blend of the factory girls on “I Turn My Head” to the soaring ache of Lucille’s “You Don’t Know This Man.”

As for the prologue/epilogue of “The Old Red Hills of Georgia,” Larry Adams’ Old Soldier and Devin DeSantis’ Young Soldier searingly convey both the natural beauty of Georgia’s famously blood-hued clay and the indelible ugliness of a landscape where the Civil War is burned into the collective memory.

Set designer Scott Davis creates a world where the Confederate flag is ever-present, tattered yet all-powerful. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes are museum-worthy period pieces that reference the class and racial divides that define the world of the play.

Sobering, enthralling and filled with beauty that’s both audible and intangible, Parade is a musty-see. Don’t let it pass you by.

Rating: ★★★★

Parade continues through July 2nd July 9th at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm & 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm & 6pm.  Tickets are $35-$80, and are available by phone (847-242-6000) or online through their website  (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Patrick Andrews and Brianna Borger star as Leo and Lucille Frank in Parade, Writers Theatre 2

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Larry Adams (Old Soldier, Judge Roan, ensemble), Patrick Andrews (Leo Frank), Brianna Borger (Lucille Frank), Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (Jim Conley), McKinley Carter (Mrs. Phagan, Sally Slaton), Devin DeSantis (Britt Craig, Young Soldier, ensemble), Kevin Gudahl (Hugh Dorsey, ensemble), Derek Hasenstab (Governor John Slaton, ensemble), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Minola McKnight, Angela), Caroline Heffernan (Mary Phagan, Essie, ensemble), Zoe Nadal (Montenegro, ensemble), Jake Nicholson (Frankie Epps, ensemble), Jeff Parker (Tom Watson, ensemble), Leryn Turlington (Iola Stover, ensemble), Jonah D. Winston (Newt Lee, Riley), Curtis Bannister (u/s Newt Lee, Riley), Nick Graffagna (u/s Frankie Epps, Young Soldier, ensemble), Lindsay Marion (u/s Mary Phagan, Montenegro, Iola Stover), Michael Potsic (u/s Governor Slaton, Britt Craig, Tom Watson, ensemble), John Ruess (u/s Hugh Dorsey, Judge Roan, Old Soldier, ensemble), Colette. Todd (u/s Mrs. Phagan, Lucille, Sally Slaton), Eunice Woods (u/s Minolta McKnight, Angela).

behind the scenes

Gary Griffin (director), Harold Prince (co-creator), Michael Mahler (musical direction), Ericka Mac (choreography), Matt Deitchman (associate music director, piano, conductor), Scott Davis (scenic design), Mara Blumenfeld (costume design), Christine Binder (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Scott Dickens (props design), Bobby. Kennedy (dramaturg), David Castellanos (stage manager), Nick Moran (CFM contractor, conductor), Tyrone Phillips (assistant director), Mallory Jane Bass (assistant stage manager), Mary Ann Anane (dramaturg intern), Michael Brosilow (photos)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Jason Robert Brown, Musical, Video, Writers' Theatre, YouTube

Comments (2)

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  1. Brianna Borger says:

    Please note that jonathan Butler-Dupleissis does not sing rumbling and rolling with Nicole, it is Jonah Winston. With only two men of color in our production one would hope you could tell the two very disparate men apart.

  2. Brianna Borger says:

    Please correct your review to credit Jonah Winston with singing Rumblin’ and Rollin’, as he is a mega talent and deserves the praise.