Ridge theater company stages weighty musical ‘Parade’

Ridge theater company stages weighty musical ‘Parade’
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Bay Ridge loves a parade, but this one is no celebratory romp down Third Avenue.

The Jeff Samaha Theater Group is staging the musical “Parade” at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology on Dec. 5–7. And with themes including rape, murder, and racism, this isn’t your typical community theater production, the director said.

“Other theater groups in area go for the Rogers and Hammerstein family shows that bring lots of kids and grannies,” said director Jeff Samaha, adding parents might not want to bring kids younger than 13. “We take a chance — this show is a big chance for us.”

“Parade” dramatizes the 1913 trial, conviction, and lynching of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-born Jewish factory worker accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan in Atlanta. But the trial was a farce, and by nearly all accounts, Frank was innocent, Samaha said.

“It was a conspiracy basically that everyone pulled together to convict this man because he was Jewish,” he said. “They wanted to move away from convicting people of color and thought this would be a way around it.”

The original Broadway production won a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score in 1999.

The subject matter is serious, but there are moments of levity — a school boy’s attempts to flirt with Mary and a sensationalizing journalist both provide some comic relief, Samaha said.

The production itself is sparse, shedding the typical musical’s frivolity and instead embracing atmosphere, the producer said.

“It bounces almost like a ‘Law and Order’ episode from one thing to another,” said producer Karen Tadross. “When you see a musical, sometimes there’s music in there just to sing and dance, but in this case, it’s really part of the dialogue.”

Much of the scenery is comprised of photos of 1913 Atlanta projected onto a backdrop — reminding audiences the musical is not fiction but dramatization, Tadross said. And if the photos aren’t enough, the actors do their part, as well.

“The cast works the audience into the story by treating the audience as if it were the jury,” Samaha said. “We play back and forth between sympathy between Leo and sympathy toward proud people of Atlanta.”

The apparent miscarriage of justice and the tension between sympathy for the victim and the accused should feel very familiar to today’s audiences, Tadross said.

“What happened in Atlanta in 1913 is not unlike what’s happening in Ferguson, where you have a crowd that gets swept up in the emotion of things,” she said. “Nothing has really changed except for the date.”

“Parade” at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology [350 67th St. between 67th and Senator streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 989–9566, www.ridge‌chora‌le.com]. Dec. 5 at 8 pm, Dec. at 2 pm and 8 pm, Dec. 7 at 3 pm. $22–$26.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeg‌er@cn‌gloca‌l.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.