"Parade" isn't just about anti-Semitism
Complicating the "Leo Frank was murdered by Jew-haters" narrative
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This week, The Broadway Maven looks at Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Ragtime, and Parade.
• On Sunday, March 5 at Noon ET and Monday, March 6 at Noon and 7 pm ET we’ll have a FREE class exploring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first Broadway musical, based on the life of the Torah’s Joseph. Register here.
• On Wednesday, March 8 at Noon ET the Jewish Broadway series will continue with a discussion of Ragtime and Parade. $5. Register here.
• This Weekly Blast includes:
A) an ESSAY that complicates the “Parade is about anti-Semitism” narrative;
B) a VIDEO QUIZ about opening lines to Andrew Lloyd Webber shows;
C) a REVIEW of the filmed television version of Mr. Saturday Night, a recent heavily Jewish Broadway musical by the composer of Parade;
D) a GAME of anagrams related to Andrew Lloyd Webber shows;
E) a Broadway Maven YouTube GEM with an interview with Parade librettist Alfred Uhry;
F) a REVIEW of a book about Broadway in the context of American history; and
F) a LAST BLAST about Oklahoma! and Carousel.
The recent anti-Semitic protests against the sold-out first preview of the revival of Parade starring Ben Platt as a northern Jew murdered by lynching have drawn newfound attention to perhaps the best-known Broadway musical about Jew-hatred.
But “Parade is about anti-Semitism” is far too simplistic an interpretation of that show. Here are three reasons:
1) We know about the Leo Frank lynching precisely because it was so rare. Lynchings in Georgia and other parts the South were mostly against Black men (see #2 below). In fact, I discussed the matter with two historians of American Judaism in the South and both confirmed that there were probably more Southern American Jews who participated in lynchings against African-Americans than who were victimized by them.
2) Lynchings were (mostly) about sex, not race. That’s why (in general) Black women and pre-pubescent Black children were not lynched. Vigilante capital punishment was part of a white Southern terror campaign to keep white women “pure.” When a Black man was accused of a sexual crime against a white woman, lynching formed an ominous specter around the case. And the “crime” didn’t have to be major — one of the best-known lynchings was against Emmett Till, a northern Black teen who was alleged in 1955 to have whistled at a white woman in Mississippi. So when Frank was accused of raping and murdering young Mary Phagan, his lynching was part of a “protect Southern women’s virtue” campaign in the context of Southern racism, and not simply an expression of anti-Jewish hate.
3) Leo Frank may have been guilty. I was shocked when Parade book writer Alfred Uhry (see YouTube GEM below) spoke to The Broadway Maven in 2021 and asserted that while he was “99 percent sure” that Frank was innocent, there’s one fact that leaves some doubt in his mind. “That afternoon, of the day of the murder, Leo Frank went home for lunch, and the only time in the history of his being the manager of the pencil factory, he called the factory I think two times to see if everything was all right,” Uhry told us. In fact, he said he probably would not have written Parade if there was not that “teeny tiny” shred of doubt: “We ALMOST know he didn’t do it.”
None of the above mitigates against the horror of an American Jew murdered by an extra-legal posse. But it should complicate a more facile interpretation of the show’s theme being one of many examples of anti-Semitic violence in American history.
Video QUIZ: This quiz shows lines from Hollywood movies that are the same as the start of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. Can you tell what they are? Give yourself one point for every correct answer.
REVIEW: Parade composer Jason Robert Brown’s Mr. Saturday Night is now available for streaming on BroadwayHD. The 2022 musical, starring Billy Crystal and based on his 1992 movie of the same name, follows the career of Buddy Young, Jr., a borsht-belt comedian whose unkind relationships with the people in his life (especially his brother and daughter) are masked by his onstage charm and appeal.
Brown, who wrote the music (the lyrics are by Amanda Green), has once again created a tuneful score on a very Jewish subject. The show’s highlight, though, is Crystal’s almost intimate connection with his audience (a highlight is his Yiddish scat singing). Crystal has been mostly a 20th century comedian, with a pioneering television role in Soap and beloved performances in movies like The Princess Bride; When Harry Met Sally…; and City Slickers. (Not to mention his star turns hosting the Oscars.) His return to stardom — playing a character who returns to stardom — is touching and entertaining. Definitely worth watching.
GAME: As we begin our March study of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows, here’s a game of appropriate anagrams related to Lloyd Webber’s work.
GIRL ABLAZE = GRIZABELLA
ABSURD LOVE TUNES = SUNSET BOULEVARD
COY REVERED SOLO = CLOSE EVERY DOOR
The answers to the others are at the bottom of the issue, below the Last Blast.
HA! A CAUSTIC ROW
HE FIGHTS MUCH TONITE
ABRASIVE FOGEY IS ENDOWED
ME, MY ACTIVE, CHATTY STRAY
CONFIDENT MARTYR? A GONER
JUST US CRASHER PRIESTS
HE ACTS GUTTER HATE
Broadway Maven YouTube GEM: Here’s the Broadway Maven’s 2021 Alfred Uhry interview about Parade, the show he penned with Jason Robert Brown:
REVIEW: I recently read an unusual book about American history and Broadway musicals: Carefully Taught. The book does not cover the history of musicals in America nor the role Broadway has played in American history. Instead, it tells the story of American history through Broadway shows — both hits and flops — that are set in different time periods, from 1776 to Assassins. Each chapter provides historical background to the show in question, along with production notes and commentary about the score. The history behind some shows set in American history can be quite familiar (South Pacific, for example, or Hair). But the book also contextualizes shows set in the American past whose stories have been less-well-told, like Newsies and Allegiance. I found the inclusion of obscure shows, including some that never made it to Broadway, to be distracting and unhelpful (familiar with Fly Blackbird or Baby Case, anyone?). But the book is a quick and easy read that will satisfy anyone who wants to know about Broadway and American history well beyond Hamilton.
We kick off our Andrew Lloyd Webber series with his first show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. We’ll learn about pastiche, as well as themes of the show. Why has it become so beloved, especially among young audiences? We’ll also have music educator Mateo Chavez Lewis on hand at his piano to further illustrate the musical aspects of the show.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat meets Sunday, March 5 at Noon ET and Monday, March 6 at Noon and 7 pm ET. FREE.
On Wednesday, March 8 at Noon ET, the Jewish Broadway series continues with a special class on Parade and Ragtime.
Future weeks will cover shows like Funny Girl and Fiddler on the Roof. Class meets Wednesdays at Noon ET. Each class is $5.
For your Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat homework, watch the video of the best lyrics from the show and answer in the comments: what are your favorite lyrics from Joseph? Explain your answer.
For your Parade homework, watch the 10-minute Broadway video about the show. What is the theme? Explain your answers in the comments.
Note: links to register for ALL classes are ALWAYS available at TheBroadwayMaven.com.
• Sunday, March 5 Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Noon ET, FREE)
• Monday, March 6 Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Noon and 7 pm ET, FREE)
• Tuesday, March 7 WATCH PARTY: Li’l Abner (7 pm ET, ALL-ACCESS Only)
• Wednesday, March 8 Ragtime and Parade (Noon ET, $5 or $18 for the series)
• Sunday, March 12 Jesus Christ Superstar (Noon ET, FREE)
• Monday, March 13 Jesus Christ Superstar (Noon and 7 pm ET, FREE)
• Tuesday, March 14 MASTER CLASS: Porgy and Bess (Noon ET, $12, registration opens soon)
• Wednesday, March 15 Barbra Streisand’s musicals (Noon ET, $5 or $18 for the series)
• Sunday, March 19 Phantom of the Opera (Noon ET, FREE)
• Monday, March 20 Phantom of the Opera (Noon and 7 pm ET, FREE)
• Wednesday, March 22 Fiddler on the Roof (Noon ET, $5 or $18 for the series)
• Sunday, March 26 CATS (Noon ET, FREE)
• Monday, March 27 CATS (Noon and 7 pm ET, FREE)
• Wednesday, March 29 Peter Filichia on Jewish Broadway hits and misses (Noon ET, $5 or $18 for the series)
Note: Students may attend up to 12 FREE classes a year. After that it’s $5 a class.
Reminder: ALL-ACCESS Passholders do not need to sign up or pay for anything. Just show up!
LAST BLAST: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first two hits contain significant symbolism of… butter. At the start of Oklahoma!, Aunt Eller is alone onstage churning butter. Not only does that symbolize the churning underneath the surface in a show that’s going to contain violence and hatred, it also shows a coming together of the community — because churning butter takes a liquid and makes it a solid. Oklahoma’s (white) population is coming together as a state. In Carousel, by contrast, the matriarch (R&H shows tended to have one) is Nettie Fowler, and she sings during “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” about melted butter. Melting butter turns a solid into a liquid, and the thus-far largely united community is about to experience a shattering of its bonds through crime, brutality, and death.
SOLUTION: Here are the answers for the Andrew Lloyd Webber anagrams (see above):
HA! A CAUSTIC ROW = OH, WHAT A CIRCUS
HE FIGHTS MUCH TONITE = THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT
ABRASIVE FOGEY IS ENDOWED = AS IF WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE
DEVIL OVERSEEN = LOVE NEVER DIES
FOCUSING MALE = ANGEL OF MUSIC
ME, MY ACTIVE, CHATTY STRAY = MACAVITY, THE MYSTERY CAT
CONFIDENT MARTYR? A GONER = DON’T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA
A CREDIBLE LAND? = BAD CINDERELLA
NOR A VEEP = EVA PERON
JUST US CRASHER PRIESTS = JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
EFFORTLESS MIME = MR. MISTOFFELEES
HE ACTS GUTTER HATE = GUS, THE THEATRE CAT
The Broadway Maven, David Benkof, helps students further their appreciation of musical theater through his classes, his YouTube Channel, and his Weekly Blast. Contact him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.
Thank you Eric. I'm getting a lot of blowback, which is weird because Alfred Uhry is one of the nation's experts on the case. I mean, his grandmother (upon whom Miss Daisy was based) was good friends with Lucille Frank.
I do hope this version of "Parade" runs longer than the first which starred the late Canadian Brent Carver, a wonderful singer/actor and Tony award winner for "Kiss of the Spider Woman".