Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: PARADE

By Toby Zinman

Review: PARADE


By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Troubling and gorgeous, Parade opened the Arden season Wednesday night. The show is hard to label: a musical tragedy? A chamber folk opera?  Whatever it is, it is filled to the brim with glorious voices, giving us a theatrically exhilarating but politically somber night in the theater.  Alfred Uhry wrote the book and Jason Robert Brown the music and lyrics, co-conceived by Harold Prince.

Parade begins with a parade celebrating Confederate Memorial Day in a town in Georgia; “Why,” Leo Frank, the show’s central character asks, “would anyone want to celebrate losing a war?”  Based on an historical series of events that took place one hundred years ago, the plot charts a hideous miscarriage of justice as Leo (the superb Ben Dibble), is falsely accused of murdering a thirteen year old girl.

As a Jew from Brooklyn, Leo is a misfit in the “Southland,” despite being married to “a Georgia girl” (Jennie Eisenhower) and running a factory which employs many of the locals.

This is Klan land, and once anti-Semitism is unleashed there is no containing it, especially as it is fed by ugly journalism and corrupt testimony. Jeffrey Coon as the muckraking journalist desperate for a story sings “Big News” with his thrilling big voice. Derrick Cobey’s sensational voice provides first fun and  then menace, while Scott Greer is the Governor willing to take a huge political risk--and do an adorable series of dances to “Pretty Music.” Michael Philip O’Brien, another of those knockout voices that can make the hair on my arms stand up, begins and ends the show with “The Old Red Hills of Home”—but by the finale, those hills are looking a lot less appealing than they did three hours earlier.

Some of the outstanding musical numbers include a passionate and painful love duet, “All the Wasted Time” sung by Dibble and Eisenhower, and the soaring and frightening ensemble piece, “Hammer of Justice.”   Dibble provides a perverted fantasy number, “Come Up to My Office” that is shockingly lecherous.

Staged with wise restraint by Terrence J. Nolen and Jorge Cousineau, the set is minimal, using a large, gilt-framed, old-timey film to provide locations, giving a sepia charm to the vile events. 


Arden Theater, 40 N. 2nd St. Through Nov.3 Tickets $36-48. Information: 215.922.1122 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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