PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Alfred Uhry

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Alfred Uhry
 
You'd think that if you won a Tony Award for the world premiere of your musical, that would be some sort of validation that you had created a finished product.
Alfred Uhry
Alfred Uhry

Not so with composer Jason Robert Brown and librettist Alfred Uhry. Almost immediately after Parade, the musicalization of the infamous 1913 Leo Frank murder case in Georgia, closed on Broadway in 1999, the duo concluded there was still work to be done on the show. When Rob Ashford and London's Donmar Warehouse decided to revive the musical, the men saw their their opportunity to finish what they had begun. Songs were cut, songs were added and the cast number was severely reduced. The finished product — call it Parade 2.0 — is now enjoying its U.S. debut at Los Angeles. Uhry talked to Playbill.com about the ten-year march between the first and second versions.

Playbill.com: In what ways is this Parade different from what we saw in New York ten years ago?
Alfred Uhry: Well, it's a much smaller production. And Jason and I had eight or nine years between the productions to think about what we wanted to do with the show anyway. I think we both felt we hadn't quite finished.

Playbill.com: You felt that early on, even before the Donmar approached you?
AU: Yeah. We wanted to do it. And then the Donmar opportunity came up, which was a stroke of luck. The Donmar is tiny, so instead of 36 people in the cast, we had 15 people, which meant a lot of doubling and tripling, which turned out to be very good for the show.

Playbill.com: Did you have to eliminate any characters?
AU: We actually added a character. And I realized there were parts of the book that weren't helpful, so I redid them. I cut it shorter than it was. We had thought originally that the reporter, Britt Craig, was going to be a major character in the show. And he turned out not really to be. But he had his big song near the beginning — good song, but it took up time and was leading us nowhere. That went. And his character, we realized, got the ball rolling and then wasn't around that much. The same actor now plays the Governor of Georgia, who takes the story further. He also plays an important prison guard where Leo Frank was incarcerated at the end. It's nice having these people playing those multiple parts. It sort of makes the group telling of the story important. The other thing that was very important to the show was Rob Ashford, who had suggested it to the Donmar; being a Southern American like me, he only punched up what I really wanted in the show, which was understanding of Southern people. I think there's less irony and more understanding of why the South was the way it was in this production.

Playbill.com: What happens with Parade in the future? If people want to do it, can they do the 1998 version, or must they do this version?
AU: They can only do this one. Playbill.com: So it's no longer possible to do the version that won the Tony.
AU: We like this version better.

Playbill.com: Well, you guys are the bosses. Did anything change in between London and L.A.?
AU: A little bit. But it's virtually the same show.

Playbill.com: What happens now?
AU: I don't know. But all these glowing reviews can't hurt.

Playbill.com: Is it too early to bring the show back to New York?
AU: I don't know.

Playbill.com: Of course, they're bringing back Ragtime, which was produced on Broadway around the same time.
AU: Yes, they seem to be. I know that now is a bit more propitious time for a show like this. I think it was a little bit ahead of itself back yonder. And we got the short end of the stick – you know, Livent [the producer of the original Ragtime] was supposed to be the co-producer of the show with Lincoln Center. And Livent went down while our show was running at Lincoln Center. And Lincoln Center tried to keep our show running and they just couldn't do it. Hal Prince kept saying, if we run until March, we'll run a year, because that's what happened with Sweeney Todd. But we couldn't make it last a year. It was sort of a bitter thing. I always knew Parade would come back. I didn't know it would come back this different and this soon.

Playbill.com: When you think of your work, all the things you've written, where does Parade fit in?
AU: I think Parade is pretty seminal about my life. It represents the crosshairs of being both a Jew and a Southerner. And those two things are often at odds. I was much more a Southerner than a Jew in my own head. I've written about that, but I think Parade sort of explained, not through Leo Frank, but through his wife Lucille, what the position of a good Georgia person of Judaism is, and I think we all learned a lot since about being what you are, which is both. I think the Frank case haunted me all my life, because my mother's uncle happened to own that pencil factory where the murder took place. Although it happened many years before I was born, my family was deeply involved in the case. I had always heard about it all my life. I actually knew Lucille Frank. She was an old lady friend of my grandmother's. She probably patted me on the head a few times.

T.R. Knight and Lara Pulver (center) with the cast
T.R. Knight and Lara Pulver (center) with the cast
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