Parade is a Tony Award-winning musical about a Jewish man fighting to absolve himself of a crime.
It’s the true story of Leo Frank, a young Jewish manager of an Atlanta factory in 1913 who is accused of raping and murdering a young black girl. Frank is the target of a lynch mob that forces division between white and black, Jewish and Christian.
The trial and conviction form the nucleus of Parade, a powerful story director Joel Greenberg is excited to tell audiences at the show’s Canadian première this month at Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs in Toronto.
“Not many musicals include a great story and raise uncomfortable issues,” Greenberg says. His Studio 180 Theatre and another theatre group, Acting Up Stage Company, are co-producing Parade, which won Tony Awards for best book and score after it debuted in 1998.
Greenberg says the story will take the audience by surprise because a city is gripped with fear and stirred into a frenzy to rid themselves of a Jewish man they believe committed a heinous murder. “It’s potent stuff,” he adds.
Playing the pivotal role is Michael Therriault, a Canadian stage veteran. He calls Parade “a unique musical that encourages you to think… it’s sort of an whodunit that’s also emotionally engaging.”
As tense as Leo Frank’s trial becomes in Parade, Therriault says the beauty of the musical is Leo’s relationship with his wife, played by Tracy Michailidis, which is “complicated because she tries to change her mind about how she views Leo [after he’s accused of murder].”
Greenberg says Jewish audiences will especially relate to the themes bubbling beneath the surface of Parade. “They will have a more visceral response to the story since they’re culturally connected to Leo,” he says.
The Toronto production of Parade has a cast of 15 who will play the musical’s 40 roles. It’s also being set in the intimate Berkeley Street Theatre, a long stretch from the Broadway theatre where Parade first debuted.
Therriault saw the 1990s production, starring Canadian Brent Carver as Leo Frank, and he says he appreciates the different personality a smaller theatre offers to its patrons.
“Audiences get more bang for their buck in this kind of theatre. They walk away remembering what they saw,” he says.
Greenberg echoes Therriault’s sentiment. “This isn’t a toe-tapping theatre. Our hope is that the performance becomes a starting point for conversation, so people will think about Parade well after leaving the theatre.”
Parade runs from Dec. 30 to Jan. 22, 2011 (opening night Jan.3). For tickets, visit www.canadianstage.com or call 416-368-3110.