By Harry Forbes
This is the superbly mounted revival of the 1998 Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics)/Alfred Uhry (book) musical about the famous Leo Frank case, so widely praised after its critically acclaimed two week run at City Center, though not officially part of that venue’s Encores series, last year. A Broadway run seemed a logical next step, and here it is.
Leo Frank, a superintendent of an Atlanta pencil factory in 1913, was brought to trial for the murder of a 14-year-old girl in his employ. The case was widely publicized and caught the imagination of the country with many prominent figures of the day calling for Frank’s pardon. Though almost surely innocent, as research over the years has strongly suggested, an indictment of Frank was politically expedient, fueled in part by his Jewish heritage. Sentenced to hang, though the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, Frank was ultimately abducted from jail and lynched by a self-righteous mob.
A depressing tale to be sure, and one watches with that sense of foreboding knowing the inevitable outcome, but Uhry and Brown put the emphasis on the strong bond between Frank and his devoted wife Lucille (beautifully played by Micaela Diamond) who, much to Leo’s surprise, shows her mettle as she fights for his vindication. So there’s a sense of uplift, and bravery in the actions of Leo and Lucille who proclaim their love and commitment to each other in rapturous duets like “This Is Not Over Yet” and “All the Wasted Time.” Brown’s score is cannily crafted so that there are lighter numbers among the heavier ones. “Come Up to My Office” in the first act, and “Pretty Music” in the second, to name just two. And all the music sounds wonderful under the direction of Tom Murray.
This production uses the revisions from a 2007 Rob Ashford revival at London’s Donmar Warehouse. I don’t recall the original Hal Prince production vividly enough to say what’s been changed, but this version works very well.
The cast is first-rate. Diamond, as stated, is marvelous as Lucille and Ben Platt's Leo is equally impressive, singing superbly, and not afraid to show Frank’s chauvinistic side. The role’s memorable originator, Brent Carver, is no longer with us, but as fate would have it, Carolee Carmello, the original Lucille, is right across the street stopping the show as Bad Cinderella’s conniving stepmother in the Lloyd Webber musical of the same name.
In the large ensemble cast, there are almost too many outstanding performances to mention. But I can’t resist a shout-out to Paul Alexander Nolan as relentless prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, Alex Joseph Grayson as the factory’s janitor (and, as history has it, probable killer) Jim Conley (whose second act blues number is a showstopper), Sean Allan Krill as Governor Slaton, Eddie Cooper as night watchman Newt Lee, Jay Armstrong Johnson as reporter Britt Craig, Manoel Felciano as anti-Frank publisher Tom Watson.
Dane Laffrey’s simple but effective scenic design, dominated by Sven Ortel’s period projections, and Susan Hilferty’s costumes, pull us convincingly into the period..
Michael Arden directs with an imaginative hand, and the choreography by Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant contribute to the seamless whole.
(Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street; ParadeBroadway.com; through August 6)
Photo by Joan Marcus: (l.-r.) Micaela Diamond and Ben PlattPrint this post