Andrea Burns and David Pittu
in the tour of Parade
Andrea Burns and David Pittu
in the tour of Parade
At the recent closing of The Wild Party, the most ambitious Broadway musical of the season just ended, director/co-author George C. Wolfe said: "If they're running you out of town, you might as well get in front and make it a parade!" That statement might equally apply to Parade, the most ambitious Broadway musical of the 1998-99 season.

Parade wasn't exactly run out of town, but its run at Lincoln Center Theater was abbreviated by mixed reviews. Now, however, the show is parading across America. A touring production is bringing to new audiences the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man who was convicted of a murder that he didn't commit, and the loyal wife who fought to free him.

Upon accepting his Tony for Best Book of a Musical last year, Alfred Uhry announced that Parade would embark on a tour in the summer of 2000, hopefully to return to New York thereafter. Of course, plenty of ill-fated musicals before (e.g., Side Show, Steel Pier) have promised tours that never came to fruition. Why did Parade come through while the others did not?

It probably helped that the show has an impressive creative team. There is Uhry, an esteemed and successful playwright (Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo); Jason Robert Brown, a young composer/lyricist whose score for Parade earned much acclaim with the release of the cast album; and, of course, Harold Prince, the legendary director who brought the show to life.

Parade also had great support from people who thought it was wrongly overlooked during its Lincoln Center run and deserved a second chance. For example: Producer Chris Manos was anxious to see the show, which takes place in 1913 Atlanta, play in that very city as a part of his Theater of the Stars summer season. In association with several other theaters across America, he hatched a plan that would allow Parade to have a national tour beginning in the city where the musical is set.

On June 13, the tour of Parade opened at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, under Hal Prince's direction. Unlike most of its kind, this tour hasn't been downsized; the cast and orchestra are as large as the New York production. The new cast, which includes several members of the original, is a uniformly excellent group of actor-singers. The leads, David Pittu and Andrea Burns, are particularly impressive--and the fact that they're younger than the originals (the much-lauded Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello) adds an even more tragic element to the story. The orchestra, now conducted by composer Brown himself, is a powerhouse. This writer's only quibble is with the staging, which seemed a bit cramped due to the lack of depth of the Fox stage as compared to that of Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Given the fact that its subject matter has long been a sensitive issue with Atlantans, there was reason to be concerned about how people in that city would react to Parade. Frank's persecution, fueled by anti-Semitism and mass hysteria, is an unpleasant chapter in the local history that most would prefer to forget. But the show's reception on opening night was positive; there seemed to be a strong emotional reaction on the part of most audience members, and there was a standing ovation at the curtain call. Locals interviewed after the show expressed sadness and even shame at the events depicted, but most enjoyed the musical and appreciated what it had to say.

A fascinating retelling of a murder mystery, and a heartbreaking love story about a man and wife who don't really fall in love until they are faced with extraordinary circumstances, Parade is a touching true story and an intriguing musical that will now be able to reach more people in its new life on the road. Whether or not it will return to New York, as originally hoped, remains to be seen.

Following is an itinerary of upcoming dates on the Parade tour:

St. Paul, Minnesota: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Aug. 1-13
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh Civil Light Opera, Aug. 15-20
Green Bay, WI: The Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, Aug. 22-27
Denver, Colorado: Denver Center Attractions, Buell Theatre, Sept. 12-24
Seattle, Washington: Fifth Avenue Playhouse, Sept. 27-Oct. 15
Cleveland, Ohio: Palace Theater, Oct. 17-29