Review: Wallace Buice’s Parade Showcases Local History

By Jody Key — Managing Editor

There’s a little theater in Marietta called The Atlanta Lyric Studio Theatre. This intimate space is currently the venue for a story based on true events that occurred in Marietta in 1913. Wallace Buice‘s much-anticipated Parade opened this weekend to sold-out audiences. This show is a hot ticket for good reason. Director Taylor Buice most recently amazed audiences with his vision for AIDA at the Atlanta Lyric Theater. Once again, his vision for this incredible true story, told in the very backyard where the events occurred, is mesmerizing anyone who is fortunate enough to have gotten a ticket.

Parade originally premiered on Broadway in 1998 and won Tony awards for best book and best original score. With a book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, this is the story of the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. Frank was a pencil factory superintendent who was accused and convicted of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker who attached erasers to pencils for 10 cents an hour. Leo Frank was a Jewish New Yorker living in the south with his wife, Georgia native Lucille. While he maintained his innocence, he was eventually lynched in retaliation against commutation of his sentence. It has been the opinion today of researchers on the subject that Frank was wrongly convicted.

The musical focuses on Leo Frank and his relationship with his wife Lucille, while at the same time showcasing the frenzy of the townsfolk who wished to see him convicted. At the heart of this frenzy is prosecutor and later state governor Hugh Dorsey along with anti-semitic publisher Tom Watson, Also emphasized is the theory that factory janitor, Jim Conley, was the actual killer. While this sounds like deep subject matter for a musical, it is told in mesmerizing fashion, and the score blends well into the scenes to tell a compelling story.

The set is minimalistic, comprised of a convertible stepped platform, several chairs, a table, a blanket, and two benches. This is all that is needed as the actors themselves along with the lighting set the stage and we know exactly where we are: a civil war battlefield, a Memorial Day Parade, inside a pencil factory,  a house, a prison, a courtroom, or outdoors attending a funeral.  News clippings on a brick wall located upstage from actual events include photos that reveal an uncanny likeness to the characters of Leo Frank, Jim Conley, and Tom Watson. Because the stage is small, patrons can actually view the clippings up close after the show.

The characters themselves, portrayed by a cast of some of Atlanta’s finest musical theater talents and supported by a live orchestra, whisk the audience away to a Marietta of the past. Jared Bradshaw’s portrayal of Leo Frank is heartfelt and genuine. I glimpsed a tear on the actor’s cheek as his character was led to his death and pled for his life. His vocals are as flawless and filled with conviction as his acting.

Maggie Salley as Lucille Frank brings a lovability to the character who stood by her husband maintaining his innocence and helping to commute his sentence. Her voice is beautiful and filled with rich textures and colors that match the emotions of the lyrics.

Once again, Haden Rider, fresh off the run of AIDA delivers an impeccable performance as Tom Watson. While he portrays one of the more unlikeable characters, we can’t help but delight in his rich vocals and ability to immerse himself in his character so completely.

The biggest surprise in the show is the performance of Adam Washington as both Newt Lee and Jim Conley. His range of acting and dynamic musical numbers showcase an incredible talent. Keep an eye on this performer in the future.

Other noteworthy performances include Molly Wiley’s haunting portrayal of Mary Phagan, J. Koby Parker’s hopeful innocence shattered as Young Soldier and Frankie Epps, and Matthew Sydney Morris’s passion for the “truth” as prosecutor Hugh Dorsey. Honestly, the entire cast and crew are to be commended for an incredible performance.

While the tickets for Parade are sold out, you can email wallacebuicetheatrecompany@gmail.com to be added to the waiting list. In addition visit their website at http://wallacebuicetheatre.com/ to learn more about this non-profit theatre company and how to support them. Thanks for supporting the arts!

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