In addition to the professional allure a story with such drama has for a writer, the Leo Frank case held a special place in Parade bookwriter Alfred Uhry’s personal life. His grandparents owned the pencil factory where Leo Frank and Mary Phagan worked, and his grandmother remained close to Lucille throughout her life. But no one in his family ever talked about Leo:
“Southern extended families are prone to telling stories and so are Jewish ones. Mine was both, so I got a double dose. I grew up hearing about the quirks of distant relatives, in-laws, and a whole network of people I didn’t know. They all came with stories attached.
But nobody mentioned Leo Frank. Some of the family even walked out of the room if the name came up. I found this confusing because I knew that my Great Uncle Sig had been his employer and Lucille Frank was my grandmother’s friend. Due to this hush-hush policy, I developed a fascination for the case…”
Composer and Lyricist Jason Robert Brown found the story equally compelling, as he found Alfred’s experiences as a Jewish Southerner. In the liner notes for the original cast recording of Parade, Brown says: “I remember…[s]itting in Alfred’s kitchen as he talked about growing up in the South. (I used a lot of his exact words when I wrote “The Old Red Hills of Home,” and Alfred always cries when someone sings that song).”
The strong personal connection with which Uhry approached the story and which Brown felt vicariously through his collaborator is everywhere in this powerful musical, in which the audience accesses the emotional life of a towns-worth of characters, from the Franks and Mary to journalists covering the trial, outraged community members, and Georgian politicians—all with real historical counterparts. As Uhry said in an interview to the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “If people are touched, I’ve done my job…..I think being “entertained” means being involved in a story, and this is one hell of a story. It’s about all these people whose lives were inalterably changed on that day in that factory during the Confederate Memorial Day Parade. Who could make that up?”
Parade runs September 26-November 3 at Arden Theatre Company