Review: Ben Platt returns to Broadway in a muddied ‘Parade’


NEW YORK (AP) – There’s little respite for Ben Platt once the new Broadway revival of the dark musical “Parade” begins. Even during intermission, he remains onstage, sitting in a jail cell.

Some patrons during the break may come close to the stage and take photos of him as they stretch or before a quick restroom stop. Others will worry for him – the hangman’s noose is fast approaching.

Platt is one of the reasons to see this grim and doomed musical love story set against the real backdrop of a murder and lynching in Georgia in pre-World War I. Another is Micaela Diamond, who plays his wife. A third reason is the score by Jason Robert Brown, which brilliantly veers from muscular work songs to intricate duets. But curious staging may leave you baffled even as you are left moved.

Platt stars as Leo Frank, a New York-bred Jewish businessman, accused of murdering a young girl who worked in the pencil factory he managed in 1913. He is tried and convicted of murder, has his death sentence commuted to life in prison but then is lynched by a mob.

Book writer Alfred Uhry, best known for “Driving Miss Daisy,” uses this story to explore anti-Semitism, racism, mob violence, prosecutorial misconduct, the appeal of the “Lost Cause” and the corrupting influence of media and politics. The original Broadway show lasted just a few months after opening in 1998; it was clearly ahead of its time – rising anti-semitism and mob violence are in the headlines now.

The set design by Dane Laffrey and projections by Sven Ortel mix photos and physical furniture around a raised smaller central platform, curiously eschewing the benefit of having the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre’s stage. This platform concentrates the action, becoming a little ballroom, bedroom, jail cell, graveyard, newspaper office and courtroom. It’s busy and yet also plain – like the top of a wedding cake – so the show is often over-reliant on Heather Gilbert’s lighting for tone.

The projections begin even as the audience enters, a slow close-up of a current-day historical street marker of the lynching. They then progress to real-life photos of historical figures, street scenes and newspaper headlines splashed on the back wall, but with all the props and actors, the effect is muddied.

Speaking of the actors, of which there are perhaps too many, sometimes when they’re not being used, they sit in silence in clumps onstage and sometimes not, making things weird. Even weirder? The murdered girl reappears on a swing – twice – as if this was “Wicked.” Director Michael Arden and choreographers Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant have added a lot of things – slo-mo movements, actors offering percussion with their feet like “Once,” symbolic balloons, an onstage outfit change – but not consistently, so no clear style emerges.

Platt, marking his first return to Broadway since “Dear Evan Hansen,” squeezes out every bit of humor in the script and conveys such emotion that his voice goes to the edge of tears. His gradual evolution from persnickety manager to romantic guy is thrilling to watch. He can howl and whisper, and even convincingly play a Casanova.

Diamond proves his equal, with her arc moving from mousey housewife to steely advocate for her husband. Their hopeful duet “This Is Not Over Yet” is a roof-roaring triumph. Another shining light is Alex Joseph Grayson, who plays a factory worker and sings his heart out in “That’s What He Said” and “Feel the Rain Fall.” He needs to have a show built around him. As for everyone else, they need a better-looking show to showcase some remarkable performances.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits


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