BENTON — The Royal Players will present the Tony Award-winning dramatic musical Parade, beginning Thursday and ending Feb. 17 at the Royal Theatre in downtown Benton.
Curtain time is at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and again Feb. 14-16, and at 2 p.m. Feb. 10 and 17.
Co-sponsored by Arvest Bank and Big Red, Parade tells the story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jewish man living in Georgia in 1913, who is accused of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker under his employ. Frank is arrested for the crime, tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. The governor of Georgia commuted Frank’s death sentence to life in prison, but when Frank was transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, a lynch mob kidnapped him and took him to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, where they hanged him from an oak tree.
The play is based on the true story of the trial and lynching of Frank, with a book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. The musical was co-conceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince in 1998. It received the Tony Award for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical.
The musical is under the direction locally of Mark A. Burbank of Little Rock, who also designed the set, and produced by Charlotte Sears Hammonds of Benton. Bob Bidewell of Little Rock is the music director, and Emma Boone, also of Little Rock, is the stage manager. Costume design is by Michelle Alverio of Bryant, with lighting design by Justin A. Pike of North Little Rock and sound design by Sandy Shipe of Bryant.
Burbank and two actors —Taylor Fulgham of Conway, who plays Leo Frank, and Angela Morgan of Bryant, who plays his wife, Lucille Frank — took a research trip to Atlanta to study the case and learn more about the history surrounding the events.
“The real-life events of Parade are set in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1913, against the backdrop of a town still reeling from the American Civil War,” said Burbank, who is assistant artistic director at The Studio Theatre in Little Rock.
“After a local teenage factory worker is raped and murdered, Leo Frank, the Brooklyn-born Jewish factory manager, is charged with the crime. By manipulating witnesses and tampering with evidence, the prosecution convinces the jury that Frank is guilty. Considered one of the most sensational trials of the early 20th century, the Frank case pressed every hot-button issue of the time: North vs. South, black vs. white, Jewish vs. Christian, industrial vs. agrarian,” Burbank said.
“The Leo Frank case revealed the deep-rooted anti-Semitism that festered alongside racism in Atlanta and the country as a whole. It unsettled the Jewish community in Atlanta, who no longer felt as safe as they previously had. The case divided the nation, with The New York Times proclaiming Frank innocent, while Southern populist publishers such as Tom Watson called for Frank’s execution,” Burbank said.
“I started researching and working on this show months before auditions happened back in October. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a trip out to Atlanta to do physical research on the case. The Breman Museum of Jewish Heritage in Atlanta has almost all of the artifacts from the case and an archivist that specializes in it,” he said.
“Back in October, in the week between auditions and callbacks, I made my first trip to Atlanta. I was able to spend a day meeting with Jeremy Katz, an archivist at the Breman, and visit Mary Phagan’s grave, Leo’s lynching site and the temple Leo and his wife attended. This trip had a big influence on the style and direction of this production,” Burbank said.
“After casting, Taylor and Angela expressed interest in making another trip to Atlanta. I was able to work it out within the rehearsal schedule, and we went during the [Martin Luther King Jr.] holiday. This trip definitely opened their eyes and made these characters and people even more real. I took them to do all the things I did on my previous trip, but this time, we also found Lucille Frank’s grave,” Burbank said.
“Parade walks a razor’s edge, separating the intimate and the epic, and builds to a devastatingly personal climax,” he said. “There is a story inside the story — the tale of Leo and Lucille. On the surface, they would seem to be a mismatched couple, and yet, over the course of Leo’s imprisonment, they come to know and trust each other, ending up at the center of a compelling and deeply moving love story. The more epic narrative strikes at the heart of the state of our nation. What sent Leo Frank to his fate ultimately was prejudice — specifically anti-Semitism.
“The original Broadway production of Parade had more than 50 cast members and was a large spectacle of a show. This production has a cast of 17, paired down orchestrations and really lets the story be the focus. This is one of the most talented casts I’ve ever worked with, and I’m so proud of the hard work, heart and soul they’ve put into the show. I can guarantee that the Royal audience has never seen a show presented in this way, and this is not one to miss.”
Fulgham, who graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway in May 2018 with a degree in theater, said Parade is a “dream role” for him.
“I had heard of the musical, but I did not know the story of Frank and Lucille. “It is quite a story,” Fulgham said.
“The trip to Atlanta was a life-changing experience for me. Seeing the places they saw … experiencing the history of it all … to hold Leo’s journal was amazing. I could feel him through that,” Fulgham said.
Morgan, a 2010 graduate of Bryant High School who started doing local productions with the Young Players when she was 11, said they visited six locations in a 24-hour period during their trip to Georgia.
“I got to know and understand Leo and Lucille so much better by walking in their footsteps,” she said.
“I got to know and understand Leo and Lucille so much better by walking in their footsteps. This entire process has been such a dream.”
In addition to Fulgham and Morgan, other cast members of Parade include the following:
• Ruby Reeves of Little Rock portrays Mary Phagan, the young factory worker who is murdered.
• Luke Ferguson of Benton appears as Frankie Epps, a young boy who is Mary’s friend, as well as a young soldier.
• Jeremiah Herman of Little Rock plays several characters — Jim Conley, the factory janitor and the key witness against Leo Frank; Newt Lee, the factory nigh watchman; and Riley, the governor’s African-American chauffeur.
• Duane Jackson of North Little Rock portrays Tom Watson, the anti-Semitic publisher of the local newspaper, as well as Officer Starnes, the detective in the case against Leo Frank.
• Patti Airoldi of North Little Rock appears as Mrs. Phagan, Mary’s mother.
• Koty Mansfield of Benton plays Britt Craig, the newspaper reporter desperate for a big break, as well as Governor Slaton, the governor of Georgia.
• Katy Fraley of North Little Rock appears as Sally Slaton, the wife of the governor.
• Jeremy Clay of Bryant plays Hugh Dorsey, the district attorney who prosecutes Leo Franks.
• Destaney Dugiud of Little Rock portrays Minola McKnight, the Franks’ maid, and Angela, a local resident.
• Greg Blacklaw of Little Rock plays the role of Judge Roan, who presides in the case against Leo Franks, as well as the role of an old soldier.
• Matthew Burns of Benton appears as Luther Rosser, Leo Franks’ hired lawyer, and Ivey, a police officer.
• Jennifer Restum of Bryant plays Iola Stover, a friend of Mary Phagan.
• Izzy Hammonds of Benton appears as Monteen, a factory girl.
• Destiny Marchese of Little Rock portrays Essie, a factory girl.
• Heather Zachary of Little Rock is a member of the ensemble.
Tickets for Parade are $15 for general admission; $12 for senior citizens, members of the military and college students with an ID; and $6 for students through high school age. Reservations may be made by calling (501) 315-5483 or visiting theroyalplayers.ticketleap.com.
The Royal Theatre is at 111 S. Market St. in Benton.