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Theatre / Parade

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It's like a foreign land
I didn't understand
Being Southern's not just being in the South
Leo Frank, "How Can I Call This Home?"

Parade is a musical with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (his Broadway debut). It opened in 1998, and received nine Tony award nominations the following year, including best musical, winning two (Best Book and Best Original Score). Critics gave it mixed reviews.

The show, Based on a True Story and staying mostly true to history, opens on Confederate Memorial Day and proceeds to follow Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman from Brooklyn, living in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Lucille in 1913. When a young girl named Mary Phagan is found murdered in the basement of the factory Leo manages, Leo finds himself fighting to prove he is not a murderer, grudgingly accepting his wife's help. Proving Leo innocent is made difficult by the relentless work of prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, determined to convict Leo on flimsy evidence with the testimony of Jim Conley. Furthermore, public opinion against Leo is stirred up by newspapermen Britt Craig and Tom Watson. And meanwhile, Mary's friend Frankie Epps vows revenge on her murderer.

The show examines the relationship between Leo and Lucille as well as racism, anti-semitism, and other issues in the post-Reconstruction American south.

A Broadway revival opened on March 16, 2023, starring Ben Platt as Leo and Micaela Diamond as Lucille. It was nominated for six Tony awards, winning two (Best Revival of a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical).

Parade provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Cappella: The last note in "The Old Red Hills of Home" is sung without accompaniment. In the revised version, the chorus of the reprise in the finale starts out this way as well.
  • The Alcoholic: In the original Broadway production, we first meet Britt Craig as he's stumbling out of a local bar. Given his banter with the owner, they seem to know each other quite well. This has been downplayed in most subsequent stagings due to Craig's de-emphasis in the plot.
  • Amoral Attorney: Subverted. While Leo's lawyer turns out to be incredibly incompetent, and while this incompetence arguably loses Leo the trial when it's later revealed how easily some of the prosecution's deception could have been exposed, he's not doing it on purpose, and he genuinely believes his client is innocent. After all, if he didn't believe this, then his ultimate strategy, to let Leo speak for himself without any coaching or rehearsing and hope that his genuine emotion moves the court, would make no sense at all.
  • The Atoner:
    • In the original version, the Judge, who, knowing his time on earth is nearly over, writes Governor Slaton a letter urging him to re-examine the case in Act II.
    • Governor John Slaton, who reopens Frank's case after his prior inaction and ultimately saves him from hanging (temporarily), even though such an action will ruin his career and reputation.
    • Subverted by Jim Conley. When Slaton comes to review his testimony, he admits to wanting to correct a falsity, but then reveals it's just a minor detail that still implicates Frank.
  • Angry Mob Song: "Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes," "Hammer of Justice," and "People of Atlanta" in the original version.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: By the end of the show, Hugh Dorsey is elected Governor, Jim Conley never faces justice for killing Mary, Tom Watson continues to write for his newspaper without anyone knowing what he did, and the lynch mob that killed Leo is never caught.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Hugh Dorsey, Tom Watson, and Jim Conley all work together both directly and indirectly to ensure Leo ends up in prison for Mary's murder.
  • Based on a True Story: The musical is based on the tragically true story of Leo Frank.
  • Bookends: "The Old Red Hills of Home"
    • The musical opens with the Young Confederate Soldier saying goodbye to his sweetheart as he goes off to war. At the end, Lucille sings the same melody as she says her last farewell to Leo.
    • The 2023 revival staging begins with the Young Confederate Soldier and Lila saying farewell before the former goes off to to war; in the finale, the same actors, now in modern dress, have a picnic at the site of Leo's lynching.
  • Clear My Name / Clear Their Name: Leo and Lucille's motivations, respectively.
  • Crowd Song: The second part of "The Old Red Hills of Home," "There is a Fountain," "Hammer of Justice," and "Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes."
  • Dark Reprise:
    • The "Finale" number wraps up with a reprise of "The Old Red Hills of Home." Interestingly handled, in that the scoring does not change from the soaring, inspiring theme of the opening, but the meaning is completely different, as the people singing are no longer young Confederate soldiers but members of The Klan. The effect is quite chilling.
    • In the revised and current version, the orchestra cuts out when the chorus comes in.
    • More overtly, "Real Big News" reprises the melody of "The Picture Show" when Britt and the other journalists are getting dirt on Leo.
  • Death Song: Leo sings the "Sh'ma", to the tune of "The Old Red Hills of Home," right before he is lynched.
  • Defector from Decadence: Officer Ivey, a member of the lynch mob that kidnaps Leo Frank and hangs him after he's spared from the death penalty, suggests sparing Leo's life if he simply confesses. Upon seeing a tearful Leo refuse to "stand up and tell a bald-faced lie", Ivey realizes that Leo Frank is in fact innocent. He fails to convince the others of this, refuses to take further part in the lynching, and has to stand aside in horror as the others hang Leo.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Leo is accused of this, as well as pedophilia, during "Real Big News" as Britt Craig's smear campaign on him begins. Jim Conley also mentions it in his testimony during "That's What He Said."
  • Distant Duet: "Leo at Work / What Am I Waiting For?" Leo is at his office; Lucille is at her vanity. Also notable in that Leo and Lucille are singing completely different songs that keep stepping on each other's heels, conveying how disconnected and unsatisfied they are at the beginning of the musical.
  • Distant Prologue: The first scene in the show and the first half of the opening number take place in 1862, fifty-one years before the plot begins.
  • Downer Ending: Coupled with Foregone Conclusion. Leo gets lynched for a crime he didn't commit. Mary's rapist and murderer, implied to be Jim, gets off scot-free. Britt is remorseful for his part in the smear campaign against Leo. Slaton has his career and reputation ruined for daring to speak the truth, and Tom and Hugh get exactly what they want.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "All the Wasted Time," a Final Love Duet between Leo and Lucille.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Leo's lynch mob refuses to believe his innocence no matter how hard he pleads, but in spite of this, they still let him speak his last requests - that he be covered by a sack so he's not exposed and that his wedding ring gets back to his wife - and ultimately grant both of them.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Tom Watson and Hugh Dorsey are both baritones.
  • Epic Rocking: "The Old Red Hills of Home" owns this trope.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Leo Frank refuses to "tell a bald-faced lie" in front of the lynchers and asks to be covered so he wouldn't be exposed while hanging. Also, Ben Platt's performance in the revival really suggests that while Leo is in shock over what's going to happen, he is ready for the inevitable.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero:
    • Leo's lawyer; Luther Z. Rosser. He initially seems like a smart enough man and acts confident that he'll win the day, but he's absolutely terrible at his job. He does nothing to fight back against all of the prosecution's ruthless tricks, even though we later see it would be quite easy to disprove their claims. His whole defense relies on getting an un-coached Leo to get an emotional response through his surprise statement. Appealing to solely to emotion rather than using simple logic to prove innocence is already a bad idea in court, but it's especially foolish since he knows that the town is already overcome with emotion and hate for his client. The revised version of the show makes him come off even worse, as he doesn't even have that plan going for him, to the point where you might think he wants Leo to lose based on such inaction.
    • Frankie Epps clearly sees himself as the heroic avenger of his friend and crush Mary Phagan. Except in his attempts to take justice against Leo Frank, he's nothing more than a pawn targeting a man who had no involvement in Mary's death. And in his attempts at revenge, he lies on the stand about Leo's guilt while falsely portraying himself in a valiant hero who's desired by Mary, with his next act against Leo being to lynch him, which then jumpstarts a new group of The Klan.
  • Final Love Duet: "All the Wasted Time" (also the only love duet). In soaring comparison to "Leo at Work / What Am I Waiting For?" (see Distant Duet above).
  • Flashback: The first part of "The Old Red Hills of Home" to the American Civil War.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since the show is based on historical events, Leo is ultimately going to die for a crime he didn't commit. The 2022 benefit performance and subsequent Broadway revival leaned into this by having a projector showing the real-life plaque that rests at Leo's lynching site that tells the story of his murder before the show even begins.
  • Good Is Dumb: Leo's lawyer Rosser is pretty damn awful at his job, but he genuinely thought his client was innocent and was doing his best to get him proven innocent.
  • Good is Not Nice: Though he is innocent, Leo Frank is not depicted as a nice person (at least at first). He hates living in the South and despises its people ("These men belong in zoos. It's like they've never joined civilization."). He also fails to appreciate his wife's love and devotion until he sees how hard she strives to have him exonerated.
  • Grief Song: "It Don't Make Sense," the number played during Mary's funeral.
    • Also, Lucille singing to Leo in the "Finale".
    • And "My Child Will Forgive Me," for Mary's mother.
  • Hope Spot: "This Is Not Over Yet." Lucille successfully convinces Governor Slaton to re-open Leo's case, and Leo and Lucille sing an exuberant duet about their fortunes finally changing. Unfortunately, even though Slaton commutes Leo's sentence to life imprisonment, a mob takes it upon themselves to abduct Leo and carry out the original death sentence.
  • I Die Free: At the end, Lucille sings that Leo is "finally free".
  • Imagine Spot: "Come Up To My Office," which displays Leo as a lecherous, predatory monster based on the false testimonies of the factory girls he employed.
  • Immoral Journalist: Tom Watson is the owner and editor in chief of The Jeffersonian, a religious right-wing newspaper which stokes the fires of anti-Semitism in Atlanta during Leo's trial and following the commuting of his sentence.
  • Implausible Deniability: Jim Conley refuses to budge on the vast majority of his testimony even after Governor Slaton gives him information that completely rips it to shreds (namely, Jim's testimony hinges on the idea that Leo killed Mary before moving her corpse, even though the sawdust in her lungs proves she was still alive in the room she was found in).
  • Intrepid Reporter: Britt Craig thinks he's this, but he's actually an Immoral Journalist whose smear campaign against Leo Frank contributed towards the prosecution's efforts in ensuring the death of an innocent man.
  • It's All About Me: Everyone in Marietta takes the murder as though they were personally wronged and commit all kinds of crimes to ensure that Leo Frank, an innocent man that several of them know probably didn't do it, will go to prison and hang for the crime.
  • "I Want" Song: "How Can I Call This Home?" for Leo, "What Am I Waiting For?" for Lucille, and "Big News!" for Craig.
  • I Won't Say I'm Guilty: In the finale, the lynch mob tells Leo that they'll release him and spare his life if he admits to the murder of Mary Phagan. He refuses...and they kill him.
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: Several witnesses testifying against Leo have been coached, coerced, or blackmailed by Amoral Attorney Hugh Dorsey.
  • Karma Houdini: Jim Conley. He rapes and murders a girl, but Leo Frank takes the fall for it and is eventually lynched. Also, Conley testifies against Frank in court. None of the Klan members who lynch Frank are ever punished either. And Hugh Dorsey, despite actions that should have gotten him disbarred or at least suspended/censured, is eventually elected Governor of Georgia, while Tom Watson is likewise elected to the Senate. Britt Craig goes back to covering the police beat, and his remorse over his part in Frank's death is not mentioned as having any effect on his tactics.
  • Large Ham:
    • Herndon Lackey as prosecutor Hugh Dorsey:
    Dorsey: "There will be but one verdict in this trial: Guilty! ... Guilty ... GUILTY!!" (Taken directly from court transcripts.)
    • Britt Craig, of a more comic relief variety.
    • Jim Conley, who is blackmailed into framing Leo and takes the stand with a fiery, chaotic performance.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: Played straight when Governor Slaton commutes Leo's death sentence to life in prison; subverted in that it didn't matter in the end, since Leo was lynched.
  • Last Request: Leo makes two of the lynch mob: that he has a sack wrapped around his waist so he isn't exposed when his body is found, and that his wedding ring is delivered to Lucille. Both are honored.
  • Leitmotif: Leo has four songs in the show, each of which take something from the one that came before it to display his growth:
    • The first lines of "It's Hard to Speak My Heart" borrow a melody from "How Can I Call This Home?".
    • The piano in "This Is Not Over Yet" is a variation on the piano in "It's Hard to Speak My Heart."
    • Leo's first line in "All the Wasted Time" ("I will never understand") uses the melody of the last line in "It's Hard to Speak My Heart" ("I pray you understand").
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The armed lynch mob that kidnaps Leo from prison.
  • Malicious Slander: Leo is a victim of this.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Real Big News," "Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes?"
  • Meaningful Funeral: Mary's. Not only does it provide a forum for Frankie to vow revenge, but the number effectively reminds the audience that before everything became such a horrific circus, the murder was a terribly sad event in the first place.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Leo's conviction.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: "The local hotels wouldn't be so packed / If a little black girl had gotten attacked!"
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Frankie's testimony is originally Played for Laughs, as he starts playing up how much he and Mary were flirting when the audience already knows she wasn't quite reciprocating like he describes it. It takes a turn for the deadly serious when he starts lying about Leo's character by speaking for Mary in ways she never actually did, helping to doom an innocent man just so he can be the hero.
    • The end of "My Child Will Forgive Me". After how sympathetic Ms. Phagan is painted as, she quickly ends the song by rudely snapping at Leo with an antisemitic comment.
    • "Factory Girls (Reprise)" originally begins with the same haunting feel as the original, as the girls once more describe the abuse they supposedly endured from Leo. It quickly becomes hilarious once Slaton calls out that they've clearly been coached (since their off-the-cuff descriptions are identical to their court testimony) and makes them tell the truth, all while they awkwardly try to keep repeating their coached statements.
    • Leo and Lucille's tender goodbye after "All the Wasted Time" is followed by the lynch mob breaking into Leo's prison cell.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Leo is truly horrified at the sight of Mary Phagan's body and recognizes the tragedy. He's also panicky enough that he remarks it could make the company look bad in front of the officers.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Craig feels this way before the story breaks.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Initially, Leo's scene with Mary before her death ends just after he gives Mary her payment for the day. In the "Finale," after Leo's lynching, we see the scene play out again, this time in full and proving beyond any doubt that Leo didn't harm her.
  • One-Word Title: Parade. Initially, it was named I Love a Parade, but the writers changed it for fear of being misleading, given the subject matter.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: As Britt points out in "Real Big News", the violently anti-Semitic people of rural Georgia are already suspicious of Leo Frank because he is Jewish, but the fact that he is one of the few men in town with a college degree doesn't help matters. Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, milking the Simple Country Lawyer persona for all it's worth, even cites Leo's "big fancy talk" as evidence that he can't be trusted.
  • Pet the Dog: A very minor example, but the person who delivers Leo's wedding ring to Lucille after his lynching is a remorseful Britt Craig, who, while not one of the main antagonists, undeniably played a part in getting Leo killed.
  • Recurring Riff: The melody of "The Old Red Hills of Home" is everywhere, up to and including forming the melody for Leo's last words before he is lynched.
  • Say Your Prayers: Leo starts reciting the Shema Yisrael, a prayer Jews are traditionally supposed to say as their last words when he's about to be lynched.
  • Scary Black Man: We eventually learn Conley was this. And despite being white, Frank is depicted as this because he's Jewish. As for the night watchman Newt Lee, he panics and prays to God when the police interrogates him because he highly suspects that they're going to pin the crime on him and might expect a death sentence.
  • Setting Introduction Song: "The Old Red Hills of Home" introduces the audience to life in postbellum Atlanta, particularly the undercurrents of injured Southern pride and a simmering hatred for the North.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: "Big News!" shows that Britt is not the humblest guy in town by any stretch.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • All the repeating motifs of "The Old Red Hills of Home" focus on patriotic pride for one's homeland and the beauty of a simple way of life; thus, the soundtrack takes the form of old-time military marches and big dramatic finishes. In context, they're talking about the Confederacy and their burning hatred for the North for their loss in the Civil War.
    • The end of the trial - with Leo being found guilty and sentenced to hang until he is dead - is underscored by an upbeat ragtime cakewalk from the orchestra, as the citizens of Atlanta rejoice at the verdict (and yes, this really happened). It then veers into a protracted cacophony (including the cakewalk being played in two keys at once, an agonising semitone apart), just to hammer home how ugly and hateful the celebrations are.
  • Spotting the Thread: When Governor Slaton actually bothers to look at the details of the case, he quickly realizes that Jim Conley couldn't have been telling the truth because of one small detail: Jim testified that Leo killed Mary in his office and then moved her to the basement, but Mary had sawdust in her lungs that could have only come from the basement, meaning that she must have been killed there.
  • Tenor Boy: Frankie Epps is a subversion. He's certainly idealistic, devoted to the memory of Mary, and wants to see (who he thinks is) the murderer face justice. However, his commitment to avenging Mary causes him to target an innocent man and commit crimes such as lying on the stand and murdering Leo.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Leo's entire first verses in "This Is Not Over Yet" exults over how he's definitely not going to die and will win the day.
    • Leo and Lucille's final conversation.
      Leo: So how do we bribe the warden to let us do this again?
      Lucille: We won’t have to, Silly. You’ll be home.
      Leo: I love you.
      Lucille: I love you, too. See you Sunday.
      Leo: See you Sunday.
  • Vigilante Execution: When Leo's conviction is changed death to life imprisonment, a mob decides to take matters into their own hands, abduct Leo from prison and lynch him.
  • Villain Song: Tons, but collectively, "Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes?"
    • "That's What He Said" for Jim Conley.
    • "Something Ain't Right" for Hugh Dorsey and "Hammer of Justice" for Tom Watson.
    • Subverted by "Come Up To My Office", an alleged Flashback in which the evil version of Frank described by the coached prosecution witnesses tries to seduce underage girls.
  • Villain Team-Up: Hugh Dorsey, an Amoral Attorney working to send an innocent man to jail, and Jim Conley, an escaped convict and the likely murderer, team up to ensure Leo is found guilty. When he is transferred and Conley is imprisoned for later crimes, Dorsey changes partners to Tom Watson to rile the people of Georgia into a frenzy.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Right before he is lynched, the mob offers Leo a choice: if he confesses to them that he murdered Mary Phagan, they will spare his life and let him serve his life imprisonment sentence. Although terrified, Leo refuses to tell them "a bald-faced lie", and he dies with his conscience intact.