By Barry Reszel
It’s parade season.
That time of year to take in a slice of small-town Americana, an almost anachronistic gathering allowing rural and suburban villages to show off their fire trucks, townies’ decorated bicycles, assorted civic organizations and yes, the interminable bastions of out-of-shape men zig-zagging on magic carpets, go-karts, mini-motorcyles and the like.
Don’t even get me started about the clowns.
But these gatherings’ namesake in Glencoe, at the beautiful Writers Theatre to be exact, beckons to be well attended by area musical theatre patrons. Daresay no one walks away from this Parade thinking about the kind of guys who spend their Saturday mornings donning a fez, skittering around on flying carpets.
Yet, think they will.
That’s just as it’s intended by the creators of this 1999 Tony Award-winning musical—book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County). In Writers’ production, acclaimed Director Gary Griffin—well supported by Choreographer Ericka Mac and Music Director Michael Mahler—puts his unique spin on true events, imploring his audience to consider prejudice, politics, journalism, justice, duty and love in the post-Civil War South, circa 1913.
Read a full synopsis of the plot and history of the musical here.
Surrounded by a stellar cast of stage veterans, well traveled Chicagoland favorite Patrick Andrews offers a triumphant performance as unhappily transplanted Brooklyn Jew Leo Frank, an Atlanta pencil factory superintendent railroaded onto death row for the murder of his 13-year-old female employee.
Lovely Brianna Borger stars as his wife, Lucille. It’s her role that particularly stands out in today’s welcome atmosphere of new feminism. Borger excellently transforms from a disinterested, overlooked Southern housewife to both a compassionate partner and politically sophisticated freedom fighter.
Andrews and Borger wonderfully lead their 15-member ensemble through Uhry’s captivating storytelling and Brown’s complex songbook. Borger’s voice particularly soars in “You Don’t Know This Man,” and the pair’s “All the Wasted Time” is both the loveliest in the book and a punctuation to the production’s end.
Applause, too, for the terrific Jonathan Butler-Duplessis‘ performance as prosecution star witness Jim Conley. Vocal and acting highlights abound in Duplessis’ characterization, but none is more riveting than his rendition of the showstopping, “That’s What He Said.”
But the stage plaudits don’t end there. Any production opening with a Devin DeSantis solo is likely to be treasured, and this Parade is no exception. With all ensemble members playing multiple roles, Larry Adams particularly shines as Judge Roan, McKinley Carter as Sally Slaton, Kevin Gudahl as Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey and Derek Hasenstab as Governor John Slaton. But truly, Griffin’s entire ensemble is impeccably cast with their vocal blends doing more than justice to Brown’s sonorous score.
Backstage, Scott Davis‘ set design, a multi-purposed, weathered wood unit depicting images of both the U.S. and Confederate flags and including side staircases to the set’s second level, is perfect for the space. As per usual for this first-rate company, all technical elements are exceptionally professional.
To be sure, this Parade, while a gorgeously scored musical, is heartbreakingly dramatic. It’s also deeply thought-provoking and must-see viewing for local musical theatre aficionados.
And it’s presented sans Shriners.
Writers Theatre presents “Parade” through July 15 at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. More information and tickets are available here.