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Parade was the first I ever heard of the 1913 Leo Frank trial. I borrowed this cast recording from my local library and wasn't very eager to listen to it, knowing that it would be incredibly depressing. Well, much like happened with Side Show, when the beginning song started I knew I was in for something amazing. The minute I heard "The Old Red Hills of Home" I was hooked. And by the end, when I got to the "Sh'ma," I started bawling. Honest-to-God sobbing my eyes out. I cried more than I did at the end of Aida or Miss Saigon, and that is saying a LOT.
The thing that I love about Parade is its paradox. The music is happy and beautiful even when something sad and horrible is happening. Even the title belies the show. It's also brilliant how JRB gives it a Dixie flair; it not only makes it very fun ("People of Atlanta" is so awesome I cannot get over it) but it also takes us into post-Civil War Georgia, when Confederate pride was still high and, for some parts of the show, we sort of feel the pride, ourselves (I sent "The Old Red Hills of Home" to my friend from Georgia and he absolutely loves it) When the soldier bids farewell to Lila, we are on his side. Even though I am northern and do not regret the south having lost, I feel the pain that they feel. Now, this may seem irrelevent--but it's not, because the Leo Frank trial had everything to do with southern attitudes at the time.
Someone earlier decried "Come Up to My Office." I personally feel that the person missed the point; if one just heard the song he or she would not know better, but in the context of the show, where you know Leo's character pretty well, just his acting that way is so ridiculous that you are convinced even further of his innocence. Also, who can deny that it's a super catchy song? And mixed with the factory girls' song at the end, it is incredibly powerful.
While I have never seen the show, I bought the libretto and will say that it is the musical's weekest point. I don't feel that I miss much by only hearing the cast recording.
Anyway, you're probably wondering why, if I love this musical so much (and indeed I do; it has become a favorite,) I did give it a full five stars. Well, the thing is, while I am a theatre nerd I am also a history nerd. Parade got me so interested in the case that it became an obsession of mine; I read everything that I could find on it. The more I found out, the more I began to realize that people are wrong about Parade having very little historical inaccuracies. It is chock full of them: details, important things, etc.
Some of them are understandable, of course. But a problem that arises is that its portrayal makes everything very black and white. By everything, I mean Leo Frank's innocence. Okay, let's face it, who when seeing it feels that they weren't crazy and idiotic for convicting and later lynching him? Sure, we've given the explanation "Yay Confederacy! Boo Union!" And we understand that... but it isn't enough, is it?
So, Parade's other explanation is anti-semitism. THAT is where the show goes wrong. I do not believe that there is much evidence of anti-semitism in the case--heck, some members of the jury were Jewish. The only one who seemed racist to me was Watson, who didn't really appear until later, when Frank was trying to get an appeal. Misunderstandings about Judaism DID affect people's views of Frank's character, but Frank's lawyers were the ones who brought character into the trial in the first place. Thing is, his character wasn't what was on trial there. Aside from Jim Conley, Parade likewise only presents the character witnesses and not any that would actually point to Frank's having murdered Mary Phagan, like Monteen Stover (who said that he wasn't in his office at the time he said he was.) It also doesn't talk about any of the physical evidence (whether it was for or against Frank) until Slaton's research--which only mentions a tiny part of it, anyway.
Anyway, you may think that my protesting this means that I believe Frank is guilty, like Mary Phagan-Kean and some others do even today. I don't; I believe that he was innocent, for conclusions I reached during my research. However, Parade doesn't even begin to touch upon the botched things in the trial: repeated perjury, mishandled evidence, an autopsy that came far too late, overlooked evidence, conflicting accounts, etc. Parade ignores that stuff. I can understand that, but I wish that they wouldn't make it so hard to understand how Frank could have possibly been convicted, southern attitude at the time aside.
Another major problem I have with Parade is the misportrayal of Leo and Lucille Frank's marriage and even characters. They had, as far as we know, a very healthy marriage. Their respective characters were exaggerated--Leo wasn't as northern as they make him seem (for pete's sake, he was born in Texas!) and Lucille wasn't as southern belle (she would use Jewish words and everything.) I realize that Parade needs character development and a romance, but one has to remember that these are real people who were misconstrued so badly.
Having said these things, do I still listen to Parade? Of course! I listen to it a great deal and I still love it. If I weren't such a nitpicky person I might have given it five stars. It is a great musical, and I think is nice that it actually teaches you something (someone said its message is "Bigotry is bad" but one must consider that Parade is teaching about a famous historical court case) It got many more people interested in the Leo Frank case, and for that alone it should be commended.