Slow Burn Theatre Company’s “Parade” is one of those beautiful shows about an ugly event in this country’s history.
And the grist between those tectonic plates of beautiful and ugly is only one reason to catch the musical staged at West Boca Performing Arts Theater. The other is that the cast and seven-piece band adeptly negotiate Jason Robert Brown’s score of pop-rock, ragtime, gospel and R&B, despite the near-constant shifting rhythms and sliding tones. At times, the cast sings with raw emotion. If our reaction is somewhat cool to the book by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”), then that is all on us. “Parade” is a good show that is good for you. But how many times have you enthusiastically loved something that was good for you?
Set from 1913 to 1915 in Atlanta, “Parade” tells the true story of the rampant anti-Semitism unleashed by the trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank (Tom Anello), who is falsely accused of raping and murdering Mary Phagan (Kaela Antolino). “anging another negra ain’t going to be enough this time,” prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Matthew Korinko) says after he questions the black janitor Jim Conley (Jerel Brown) and focuses on getting a guilty verdict for Frank and ignite political ambitions.
As all the institutions fail Frank — the judicial, the legislature, the church and the press — it is his wife, Lucille (Ann Marie Olson), who cuts through the venal fog of a Georgia twisted by hate (at the play’s opening, we’re reminded it is only about 50 years after the Civil War) in order to save her husband.
Here is the one pure and bright part of this lurid story, the love between Leo and Lucille. It’s a slow reveal, and a surprising one to the couple. Early on, Leo is mystified how his wife “can be Jewish and Southern at the same time.” A Brooklyn transplant, he is isolated in the South, with no one around who may “look, think and act like I do.” But as the play marches on to its tragic ending, he warms and softens, while she sharpens and soars. They are given the space, time and words to do so in the music. With them and the rest of the cast it isn’t really one song or any particular passage that drives it all home, but rather the sum of songs that lingers.
Helmed by Patrick Fitzwater, the production is so seamless that applause sputters to life late between scenes and after songs. This is partly because we are numb while trying to digest the preceding action, and partly because of the fluid transitions, which are appreciated with a running time of two hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
“Parade” will run through Feb. 9 at West Boca Performing Arts Theater, 12811 West Glades Road, in Boca Raton (on the campus of West Boca Raton Community High School). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees on Sundays. Tickets cost $40 for adults, $35 for seniors and $25 for students. Call 866-811-4111 or go to SlowBurnTheatre.org.