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Arts

The B List: Six reasons to march to R-S Theatrics' musical 'Parade'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2013 - It’s 1913. Thirteen-year-old pencil factory worker Mary Phagan is dead, and Atlanta politicians need a scapegoat. Factory supervisor Leo Frank is a Cornell-educated Northern Jew, a square-peg in a round-hole South. If you know your history, you know who gets indicted, then convicted, then lynched. If you don’t, it’s easy to guess, as the wheels of justice turn in tandem with the rumor mill, powered by political winds.

R-S Theatrics’ rendition of “Parade,” 1999 Tony Award winner for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score, presents this grim, musical history lesson at The Ivory in Carondolet only four more times, Thursday through Sunday. It’s never been seen in St. Louis; R-S only stages local premieres. Go see this one if you can, because:

  1. Jennifer Theby-Quinn embodies a completely convincing Lucille Frank: Initially, the mousy scion of a local Jewish family, Lucille is skillfully revealed by Theby-Quinn to be a woman of great chutzpah as she employs her wit and Southern wiles to try to save her husband. Her beautiful rendition of “You Don’t Know This Man” makes us feel that we do know her.
  2. There is humor as well as horror: “Don’t be such a Meshuggeneh,” Frank tells his wife, who rolls her eyes at his use of the Yiddish term for a fool, and retorts: “I’m Jewish too but at least ah don’t spake a foreign language!”
  3. The set-less show exposes the beauty of sparsity: A desk here, a dressing table there indicate an office, a home. A few bars and a tin pail suggest a jail cell. Minimal props and effective lighting give the characters more room to rivet the audience to the stage on their own.
  4. Marshall Jennings hits the mark in his portrayal of factory janitor Jim Conley: As the escaped convict who hopes to avoid recapture, Conley swears he saw Frank kill little Mary (many historians believe Conley was the killer). Later, when he’s back on the chain gang, he treats the audience to a soulful but disturbing “Blues: Feel the Rain,” belting out lyrics like, “She gonna cool my fever.”
  5. Admission is pay-what-you-can on Thursday, Sept. 12
  6. The play successfully delivers the sweet agony of false hope: “This is not over yet,” the Franks sing, when the governor decides to re-open the case. Knowing full well the inevitable outcome, it’s satisfactorily gut-wrenching to hear, “It means my mother can stop crying ... My Rabbi's eulogy can wait ... .” But we understand the wait won’t be that long, and that his mother’s tears will never end. 

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