Since COVID the only song that has been in my head has been “Everybody Says Don’t ” from Anyone Can Whistle. The other night I saw a concert version of the musical Parade and I knew I needed to do a series of shows that were just too ahead of their time. These shows told a truth or truths that the world was not ready to accept. Our first of the series was Anyone Can Whistle, then Leap of Faith.
Directed by Hal Prince, with a book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown Parade, dramatized the 1913 trial, imprisonment, and 1915 lynching of Jewish American Leo Frank in Georgia. The show was Brown’s first Broadway production. Alfred Uhry, who grew up in Atlanta had personal knowledge of the Frank story. His great-uncle owned the pencil factory run by Leo Frank. The show starred Brett Carver as Leo Frank, Carole Carmello as his wife Lucille.
The musical premiered on Broadway in December 1998 and won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score (out of nine nominations) and six Drama Desk Awards. The show closed on Broadway in February 1999, but is even more relevant today.
In 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old employee, Mary Phagan. It was obvious Frank did not commit the crime, but that the prosecution’s star witness, Jim Conley, an African America factory sweeper did. However the hatred of the Northern Jew was greater than against the blacks witnessed the murder and helped Leo cover up the crime (“That’s What He Said”). After the Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton, reviewed over 10,000 pages of testimony and possible problems with the trial, Leo Frank was transferred to a prison, before a lynching party seized and kidnapped him. He was taken to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and was hung from an oak tree.
The ambitious and corrupt prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, later became the governor of Georgia and then a judge. The anti-semitic publisher Tom Watson who condemned Leo publicly later was elected a U.S. senator.
On 16 February 2015 Parade in Concert starring Jeremy Jordan and Laura Benanti. Performed at the Avery Fisher Hall, Parade in Concert was a one-night only concert presentation of Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Tony-Award winning musical, Parade.
What makes this show so relevant is that decisions were fueled by hatred, not facts. Leo Frank was condemned and murdered by mob mentality fueled by a corrupt newspaper owner who became a Senator over this. The prosecutor was a political animal who only cared about his ascension to Govenership and didn’t care who got hurt. Could it be we are here again?