“Parade” offered by Sound Theatre

Madison Jones, Jeff Orton, Victoria Rosser. Photo by Ken Holmes

In this its tenth anniversary season, Sound Theatre plans to examine what it calls “The Long Arc of Justice.” First up is “Parade,” directed by Troy Wageman. It’s a powerful and extremely pertinent musical that explores the impact of bigotry on the values our nation holds dear and how easily strong voices can incite mob action.

It closely follows a true story. In 1913, deep in the South, a 13 year-old girl was murdered in the basement of a pencil factory. Blame soon fell on the Brooklyn-born, Jewish factory superintendent, Leo Frank (Jeff Orton). He was an easy target in a South struggling still with the lingering effects of the Civil War. Although Leo was married to a local woman of Jewish descent, she was more a southern belle than a matzo ball maker. Tori Spero as Lucille Frank expresses the breadth of her emotions and their swings as she tries to understand what’s happening to her husband.

She fits in. He doesn’t. Not only is he a Yankee, worse, he’s also a Jew, a sober man, no glad-hander or easy joker. He just doesn’t understand what it takes to “be southern.” He has few friends, and the cards are stacked against him. So, in this era, and, in this land of lynching, it’s not surprising that he fares badly. Orton captures Leo’s dignity, disbelief, and despair.

This is a dark story, designed to draw our attention to the void between ideals and realities. It forces us to take a good look at the dangers of mob rule and the evils of prejudice. As do many other dramas that deal with dark subjects, it draws the audience in bit by bit until we’re totally hooked.

Nathan Young directs the excellent nine-piece orchestra. Some adjustment in sound is necessary to prevent it from occasionally overwhelming the singing voices, but other than that it does a fine job of reinforcing mood and action. The songs move the story forward, but don’t expect to leave this theatre humming one of its tunes, excellent though they are. They aren’t candidates for a hit parade. One of the best numbers is the cakewalk choreographed by Scott Brateng that ends the first act. The orchestra is in top form, and the cast gives it all they’ve got.

The cast works well individually and as an ensemble. Production values throughout this performance are excellent. I especially liked the minimal but entirely effective set designed by Richard Schaefer. Note that massive tree trunk hanging over part of the stage. It combines an elegant simplicity with a powerful symbolism.

Through March 26 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (www.soundtheatrecompany.org).

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