In a Broadway season searching for a breakout musical hit, the case of Parade was a true heartbreaker. A risky work with an adult point of view and a stirring score by neophyte Jason Robert Brown, the Lincoln Center Theatre production (presented in association with the beleaguered Livent) drew a mixed press and failed to catch on at the box office. It closed on February 28, after a run of 89 performances, leaving Broadway for the moment without a likely winner for the spring awards season.
The common wisdom about Parade was that it was too dark and unpleasant. Certainly this opera-like work was not aimed at audiences looking for simple amusement. Alfred Uhry's book dramatized the case of Leo Frank, a New York Jew living in Atlanta, GA, who in 1913 was accused of murdering a young girl named Mary Phagan. The case became a lightning rod for contemporary social tensions, including anti-Semitism, industrialization (Mary Phagan worked in a pencil factory managed by Frank), and racial prejudice (Frank's main accuser was black). Today, there is little doubt that Frank failed to receive due process; testimony was manufactured and the jury was only too willing to convict an outsider for this unthinkable crime. When the governor of Georgia, upon further investigation, commuted Frank's sentence from death to life in prison, Frank was kidnapped and lynched. To this day, Mary Phagan's murder has not been solved.
Parade is a musical constructed on three levels, which move from deeply personal to the overtly political: The central story is that of Leo Frank and his wife, Lucille, who, in their quest for justice, find their quietly unhappy marriage transformed into a powerful love affair. Surrounding them are the many characters who use Frank's trial for their own ends--the prosecuting attorney looking to advance his political career, the journalist in search of a juicy story, the newspaper publisher who exploits ethnic tensions; the witness who accuses Leo Frank to obtain clemency for his own crimes. All these stories are told against the broader canvas of Atlanta, whose citizens ease their anxieties about the modern world by mythologizing the pre-Civil War past.
Parade is a sprawling work with at least 14 significant singing or speaking roles and a narrative that covers dozens of locations. It's a project that could easily buckle under its own weight, which is why Riccardo Hernandez, whose scenic designs for the Broadway productions Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk and The Tempest were known for their spare elegance, was an inspired choice. For Parade, which was staged in the Vivian Beaumont Theatre by Harold Prince, Hernandez designed a basic environment featuring a three-sided black surround and a giant tree placed at the rear stage right, with bare branches spreading ominously over the stage. At times, the walls of the surround opened to reveal barred windows, creating a space that could serve either as the pencil factory or the prison where Frank was incarcerated. The juxtaposition of the surround and the tree created a metaphor with multiple meanings: it evoked the constant tensions between the South's agrarian past and its industrial present. It also served as a reminder of the deeply entrenched nature of the American South, its adherence to tradition and abhorrence of social change. And ultimately, it served as the hanging tree for Leo Frank.
Hernandez's design evolved over several different versions, but the concept of the tree and the surround has a basis in Uhry's script. The show's first number, "The Old Red Hills of Home," begins with a young Civil War soldier singing an anthem about his homeland. During the course of the song, he is transformed into an elderly veteran attending a Confederate Memorial Day parade in 1913. "There's a line in the script that says the soldier is standing by a huge old oak tree," says Hernandez. "However, the surround is a Hal Prince master touch. What I had at first was too romantic, too open. I had legs framing the entire tree--it looked like a Noguchi sculpture. Hal got excited by this idea, but he wanted more flexibility. Then he showed me a picture by George Grosz--a painting of a courtyard and a wall with square windows, and that's how the whole thing came about." For the designer, the key is what he calls the "guillotines," which open to create dozens of horizontal windows in the walls. "We're in a prison that can transform itself into an industrial environment that also represents the South," he says. Hanging over the set at all times is the wall of a jail cell, a constant reminder of Leo Frank's future.
A third key element was a scenic drop, a translucency depicting a cloudy, windswept sky (another reminder of the Southern past) which was revealed behind the rear wall of the surround. For both the funeral of Mary Phagan and a crucial love scene, the sky was blue-gray. For a chain-gang sequence, Hernandez used a plain cyc which Howell Binkley's lighting gave the color of blood oranges. In some scenes, the top section of the surround's rear wall remained in place, guillotines shuttered, framing the scenic drop and giving it the look of a letterboxed film image. For certain scenes, including the opening number and the Act II chain gang sequence "Feel the Rain Fall," a rural landscape was placed against the sky.
There were, however, many other aspects to Hernandez's design. Above all, there were the parades, one at the beginning, one at the end, and one at the top of the second act, when Frank's case begins to receive national attention (during the numbers "It Goes On and On" and "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'"). Each parade, which further underlined the Atlantan obsession with the glorified rural past, was staged behind a scrim that featured a cutout of silhouettes depicting spectators in the street. The scrim masked the automation that controlled the parade, a 160' chain, placed in the show's deck and driven by a 34A motor located under the stage (the chain was visible through Plexiglas placed in the deck at the stage-left and stage-right loading and unloading points). Each of the approximately 20 parade floats was mounted on a steel wagon; attached to the front of each wagon was a UHMW (ultra high molecular weight) knife. Each knife had a set of teeth that could be engaged by the moving chain. The floats were loaded stage left by stagehands, who fed the knives into the chain; the chain then pulled the floats across the stage. The floats were unloaded stage right and returned to stage left via the backstage crossover area, where they were lined up for the next parade. The slow pace of the chain motor gave the parades a stately, slightly surreal quality, which was heightened by the use of strip lights built into the upstage side of the cutout frame to create an eerie uplighting effect.
As with everything else in Parade, this effect was the result of intensive collaboration between Hernandez, production carpenter Walter Murphy ("he was like a guardian angel on this production," says Hernandez) and the staff of Scenic Technologies, of New Windsor, NY. For the record, Scenic Technologies did the show's deck and tracking, and was also responsible for fabricating the giant tree. Moving scenery was controlled by Scenic Technologies Stage Command Systems(R). The parade floats were built by F & D Scenic Changes, of Calgary, Alberta. The surround walls were built by Great Lakes Scenic Studios of Burlington, Ontario. Other important members of the team included assistant scenic designer Paul Weimer ("he was the best," says Hernandez), production propertyman George T. Green, Jr., and production flyman Bill Nagle.
Hernandez says that a key piece of research for the parade floats, with its procession of Civil War veterans, Southern belles, flags, and firefighters and other civic groups, was the book Days of Jubilee, by Brooks McNamara and Robert R. MacDonald (Rutgers University Press). Although it is subtitled "The Great Days of Public Celebrations in New York, 1788-1909," the designer says it provided him with the right visual research regarding flags, bunting, and other important details of such events.
The parade floats were not the only moving components in Hernandez's design. We first meet Mary Phagan in a number titled "The Picture Show," staged on a trolley that crossed from stage right to stage left. To accommodate the trolley and other pieces of scenery, Scenic Technologies created a new pair of voms by placing black masking about 3' in front of the Beaumont proscenium. After crossing the stage, the trolley entered the stage-left vom, was broken down, and hung in the air. Also, three elevators, with hydraulic trap doors, quickly and efficiently transported actors and scenery up to the stage from below. The elevators located downstage right and left were operated by conventional 34A electric motors, and had a capacity of 600lbs. The elevator located upstage center was much larger ("It's the size of a Volkswagen bus," says Murphy, laughing), with a capacity of approximately 1,500lbs, it was previously used to power the bandstand in last season's Broadway musical High Society.
One particularly startling moment occurred near the end of Act I, during the long musical sequence that makes up Frank's trial. It was a startling shift in perspective, achieved by the rearrangement of scenery in full view of the audience. During the early part of the trial sequence, the courtroom was represented by several scenic units--a wagon unit for the trial spectators, and a pallet for Frank and the attorneys at stage left, with the judge's bench and witness box at stage right and the courtroom doors at stage center. During the testimony of the black janitor Jim Conley, a turning point in the trial, the witness box (a manual unit) was moved to a more prominent position at stage center. As Conley's testimony climaxed, the jury box, not seen before, came downstage center, while the stage-right crowd wagon and lawyer pallet moved offstage. An identical set of units--a crowd wagon and laywer's pallet entered from stage right. The result was like that of a reverse angle in a film. "It's another Hal Prince moment," says Hernandez. "It's like a movie--he wanted to create different angles for the trial. He wanted a kind of 360-degree movement where, in the first half of the sequence, we, the audience, are the jury. But at the end, the jury is there for real. And the only way to do that was to move pieces little by little and then stage that big changeover. All set pieces were automated, except for the judge's bench, which was moved by actors. The jury itself consisted of one actor and 11 cutouts of men, a daring technique used throughout by Hernandez (many of the parade floats blended real actors with two-dimensional people), that further heightened the surreal nature of some of the play's incidents.
The onstage effects were only the beginning of the work for Murphy, who also had to oversee the construction of a new orchestra pit for the production, as well as a separate working area to load props and actors on the elevators. Overall, he had a crew of 14 people, including himself, to run the show. The production also required 19 deck automation effects and six flying automation effects, which were run on two consoles. Murphy adds that the Parade control system, and most of its winches, were used in the previous Lincoln Center Theatre production of Twelfth Night, which was also built in part and automated by Scenic Technologies.
In spite of its shortened run, Hernandez allows that he feels very proud of his work on Parade. He also enjoyed working with his collaborators, and he is, quite justifably, angry. "I don't know what the future holds for us, but I'm so honored and proud to have worked on a project of this depth in the arena commonly known as commercial theatre. Unfortunately, American audiences seem more than ever to be demanding to be entertained and dazzled by overproduced theatrical simulacrums created by corporations with the sole purpose of attaining more and more. I pray that the true people of the theatre like Hal Prince and George C. Wolfe [for whom Hernandez frequently designs] keep bringing the idiosyncratic creative energy into this otherwise stifling atmosphere where a Faustian bargain is at stake every time."
Unlike Riccardo Hernandez, costume designer Judith Dolan has had more experience with Harold Prince, having designed several of his productions--her Tony Award is for his most recent revival of Candide. Still, she freely admits to approaching the project with a certain amount of concern, for a number of reasons. "This is a true story; it's important to respect that," she says. "There are so many books written about this case. The onus of history was on me. I didn't want to decide Leo Frank's guilt or innocence. To me, the show is not a whodunit. It's about transgression of justice, about prejudice, about victims--a number of issues that are very, very current. The problem was, how do you treat history without getting bogged down in historical artifacts? You can't put too much between the performers and the audience, or that connection won't happen." For that matter, the characters in Parade range all over the social map, from powerful politicians and their elegant wives to black servants, child laborers, chain-gang prisoners, Confederate veterans, and, of course, the Atlantans who take part in the Confederate Memorial Day parades.
Taking all these issues into account, Dolan vowed to keep her designs simple and real. "I picked the lightest fabrics, made the simplest choices, that I could and still deliver the show. The actors weren't encumbered by clothes. I wanted you to see the costumes, get them, and forget about them."
At times, Dolan says, she had to defend her insistence on simplicity and reality. For example, when Uhry first saw Leo Frank's prison uniform, "Alfred asked, 'Does he have to wear those chain-gang stripes? Can't you put him in a denim shirt?' And I said, 'No, because it's not true.' And as soon as I said that, he understood my choice and accepted it. Trying to be truthful and simple is hard."
Of course, research played an important part in Dolan's work. Perhaps more than her collaborators, she focused on the children in the show, especially Mary Phagan and the other girls who work in the factory. "I got emotionally tied to the factory children," she says. "They don't have a voice in this story and I felt I had to give them a visual voice. There's this great research done by the photographer Louis Hines during this period--they're beautiful photographs of mill children that became so crucial to me. The key was to make those children real, not glamorized, but not too dirty or tattered, either." As a result, the girls--Essie, Iola, Monteen--make their courtroom appearances in dresses that are faded and worn, yet neat and clean, representing their attempts to look their best with limited resources.
Overall, Dolan says, the show's 1913-1915 time period provided her with some challenges. "This is one of those transitional periods, where the look went from semi-Edwardian to the beginnings of the suffragette. That was great for Lucille; at the beginning you see her as this rather unimaginative Southern lady--simple but nice. And then she moves into something much freer." Indeed, Lucille's early costumes featured a high neckline and a certain voluminous propriety about them. As she becomes a crusader for her husband, she adopted a simpler, more tailored look.
The transformation of Leo and Lucille from polite strangers to passionate lovers was subtly marked by changes in Dolan's costumes. This is especially true in the climactic number, "All the Wasted Time," sung by the couple during a conjugal prison visit. "I worked hard on Lucille's dress," says the designer. "I ended up changing the fabric at the last minute, but it had to be about the woman, not the dress. It had to be feminine but simple. Her neckline has gone down from this High Edwardian look to this soft open throat with that tiny little medallion necklace. As for Leo, the irony about the scene is he's become free, yet he's standing there in a flannel prison shirt and prison pants. It's a wrenching image, after he's finally shed that black suit of his."
For Dolan, historical research was a source of inspiration, but she was far more concerned with the actors onstage. "Alfred showed me pictures of Leo and Lucille; I looked at them and distilled them. For example, the real Lucille had these rather large, elaborate Edwardian hairstyles that were not very attractive. What that said to me was, this is a woman without imagination. That became the important thing--not her hairstyle or the fact that the real Lucille was heavyset."
Dolan's color palette was necessarily restrained; however, she added a welcome splash of color to the number "Pretty Music," set at a tea dance at the Georgia governor's mansion. Here the ladies of the chorus appeared in hand-embroidered tea dresses. "I went to [the ballroom dancer] Irene Castle and some of her clothes," she says about her research. "I also had pictures of butterflies from the period. These became my butterfly dresses. I created a sense of iridescence by combining silk on top of other silks, to create a bit of hushed color. I did feel at that point, we needed to deliver a bit of relief to the audience. But it still had to be within the context of what we had done elsewhere, which was, essentially a black-and-white movie."
The "Pretty Music" sequence was one of the few instances where silks were used in the show. Otherwise, says Dolan, laughing, "I was committed to the land of cotton. Of course, cotton and linen light so beautifully--the wrinkles, the sense of the bodies underneath, were perfect for me." Lighting was a particularly crucial element here; Dolan didn't distress any costumes until she first saw them under Howell Binkley's lighting. "I told Howell afterwards, I'd never worked so closely with a lighting designer. Those are heavily painted clothes, and yet I don't think they look it onstage."
Another tricky item involved the parades, which feature floats populated by girls dressed as antebellum Southern belles. "You had to believe that these girls made these dresses themselves," says Dolan. "I watched the [1915 D. W. Griffith film] Birth of a Nation. The hairstyles are more 1912, but you can tell that somebody made those clothes--they weren't slick." These costumes were made of a cotton blend, "but we dipped them, dyed them, used the fabrics on the wrong side." As for the parade spectators, the designer mixed a variety of fabrics--still working within a fairly tight palette--to create a sense of visual variety and to imply different walks of life, a process that she compares to blending the elements in a trompe l'oeil still-life painting
Most of the costumes were executed by Barbara Matera Ltd. In New York, with other pieces built at the Livent Costume Shop and Malabar, Ltd., both in Toronto. The hats were built by Rodney Gordon Inc., with millinery by Woody Shelp. Accessories, painting, and breakdown were handled by Martin Izquierdo Studio Ltd. Wigs and hairstyles were by Paul Huntley. Sheila Kehoe and Cherie Trotter were assistant costume designers. Lynn Bowling was wardrobe supervisor, with a staff of eight dressers.
Again and again, Dolan returns to her creative mantra for the show: Keep it simple and real. "Because the set is so minimal and the lighting is so film noir, it's up to the clothes to say where we are. Yet it's not a parade of costumes. I was committed to the idea that clothes were not changed as time elapsed--they were changed for dramatic reasons, for character reasons, to demonstrate a dynamic onstage." She acknowledges Prince's influence on her thinking: "Hal has such respect for the audience in releasing their imaginations, and not trying to deliver every specific detail. He trusts his audience. It was really hard. And I had a wonderful time."
The huge oak tree that sits silently upstage as events unfold during Parade is a grim reminder of the inevitability of this tragedy's final act. The metaphorical tree was an inspired choice on the part of set designer Riccardo Hernandez, but it also proved a bit of a challenge for lighting designer Howell Binkley.
"My goal was to give the tree life throughout the show," Binkley explains, "because that's where Leo Frank is going to hang. It was a matter of tempering it in different directions, and just keeping it alive in each of the 45 scenes of the show, whether we're in somebody's office, or the jail, or wherever. Hal Prince said, 'Let's have it live upstage, where it could always be ominous, and just kiss it with light.' I thought it was going to be a real pain in the ass, but it got to be fun to be able to texture it throughout the show."
To that end, Binkley decided to light the tree from a variety of angles. He specified a grate in the floor of the Vivian Beaumont stage, directly under the tree, in which he placed L&E 75W flood Ministrips. This worked particularly well during the highly stylized scenes of Atlanta's annual Confederate Memorial Day Parade, in which a black scrim descends midstage and live actors mix with black cutouts as a series of surreal floats pass by, the grate completely hidden from the audience. Binkley placed a similar Ministrip system above the tree, and then added some low sidelight from the upstage left and right windows in an industrial brick wall surround that Hernandez designed to fly in during several key scenes.
"We had to have a lot of access for the actors to get on- and offstage," Binkley explains, "so Riccardo provided me with these windows to really shoot light through and keep the sides relatively clear. Those window lights worked not only for the tree, but also in the scene where Leo is first brought into the Fulton County Jail; that's the first time the whole set is really lit up in the show. It's all white light, coming through all the windows, and it really opens up the space for the first time."
Prince wanted Parade to be performed on a thrust stage in order to bring the characters closer to the audience for the show's intimate moments, such as those in Leo's jail cell with his wife Lucille. He got his wish with the Vivian Beaumont, and it was up to Binkley to bring warmth and humanity to these two characters as they struggled to come to terms with their plight. "It was really tough isolating that downstage thrust," the designer says. "You've got the audience on three sides, so you really have to pull them in, but you also have to try and keep the atmosphere that was established at the top of the show. Leo's in jail for just about the entire show, until he's transferred to the prison farm at the end, right before he's hung. So you have to nurture that scene so that every time we go back to it, it's a different time of day. You always have to texture it with different looks."
One of the most brutally powerful scenes occurs in the second act, when a sledgehammer-wielding chain gang pounds on rocks in the burning sun as one of Leo's accusers sings the blues number "Feel the Rain Fall." The chain gang was placed in silhouette in front of a cloud tram; Binkley used a combination of Rosco 23, Lee 105, and clear to denote the hot Georgia sun. "We flew them on a striplight," Binkley explains. "We called it a horizon flying electric, because it would start low and then slowly move up during the course of the song. We also put a lot of frost in there to diffuse it, so it kind of lifted the scenic landscape onstage."
For a large Broadway musical, Binkley's equipment list was relatively simple: approximately 650 conventionals--made up mostly of ETC Source Fours and Source Four PARs, with a few Arri and Altman fresnels--with approximately 100 Wybron Coloram II scrollers, and an MDG Atmosphere ATM-S fogger. Binkley also used a smattering of moving lights: about 20 Vari*Lite automated luminaires, made up of VL2C-Qs(TM) and VL6(TM) spot luminaires. Chad McArver served as associate designer on the project; Harry Sangmeister was the Vari-Lite operator.
Binkley had worked with Prince several times previously, including on Kiss of the Spider Woman and the first, ill-fated production of Whistle Down the Wind. "Hal has a creative vision that he funnels into everyone," the designer explains. "And it's really nice to be able to start knowing where you're going. It can be difficult when you're trying to out-guess your director or other designers. But he just stirs a big bowl with all of us in it, like a big soup. He challenges everyone: the followspot operators, the crew, the automation. It's very collaborative and it doesn't get nasty."
Jonathan Deans' sound for Parade was an exercise in simplicity--a rare occurrence these days for a major Broadway musical. Two factors contributed to this decision: the show's location in the 1,800-plus seat, thrust-stage, subscriber-based Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center; and the show itself, with its turn-of-the-century time period and intimate focus on the relationship between Leo and Lucille Frank.
"What's tricky about the Vivian Beaumont is that most of what they produce there are plays," explains Deans, "so when the subscribers come in, they're used to hearing a certain sound. A large portion of the audience, especially during previews and the first few weeks after it opens, are the subscribers. In comes a musical, and it changes everything for them. So it's a matter of keeping the integrity of the theatre to what they're used to, while keeping the integrity of the musical going in there, and of knowing when you should use reinforcement, and when you should remain invisible.
"We were able to keep the technology down as low as possible for the show," the designer adds, "which was good, because it's not that kind of a show. It's not a Ragtime or a Les Miz, or one of these other epics. It's a small, very pure play with some great music. So we just tried to keep it simple."
Because the Vivian Beaumont is a thrust stage, with no proscenium to speak of, Deans arranged the speakers--Meyer MSL-2 two-ways--in a cluster position. Other equipment, all provided by Masque Sound, included a Cadac J-Type console, Yamaha DMP 9-16 and 01-V digital mixers, Sennheiser SK-50 UHF transmitters, and B&K DPA 4060 mics, as well as his old standby, LCS LD-88 digital mixers. "LCS was used in really low-key ways," he notes. "Because of the thrust, the performers went all the way upstage and all the way downstage, so I had to change time delays. When performers move further away, you have to add milliseconds to their voice signals so that it works perceptually with what you're looking at."
Parade featured a 19-piece orchestra, but because Riccardo Hernandez's set design called for three elevators, not all of the band members fit in the pit. Odd man out was the percussionist, who was placed in a dressing room down a corridor about 100' away from the rest of the orchestra. "We worked it out by having the percussionist, Dean Thomas, be A), an excellent percussionist, and B), a nice guy," Deans quips. "He's got to be in a room all by himself for the entire show, so he has a video monitor and audio monitors in the room. We also gave him an in-ear monitor, which he plugs in, because once he starts to play, he can't hear the speakers."
In keeping with the theme of simplicity, Deans endeavored to make the sound effects on Parade as unobtrusive as possible. But as is sometimes the case, the less complicated the problem, the more complicated the solution. Case in point: a simple, Victorian, hand-cranked doorbell. "Hal wanted a doorbell that would wake everybody up and be a shocking sound," Deans explains. "But since it was the turn of the century, they would have only had the hand-cranked bell. It's very hard to make that kind of bell alarming, unless you go electric, which would have broken a boundary. And I couldn't find one on CD, because they were all wimpy things. So I ended up buying a replica of a Victorian bell at Restoration Hardware. Suddenly, this little doorbell cost more money than half the production."
Associate sound designers on Parade were Peter Hylenski and Kurt Fischer; Marc Salzberg served as production soundman. Though Parade closed, Deans had three shows on Broadway during the first part of the year--Ragtime and Fosse--plus several Cirque du Soleil productions, including O at Bellagio and the just-opened La Nuba in Orlando. It's been a busy time for the sound designer, but he recently moved into a new house in Las Vegas with his pregnant wife, and was going to take some time to fix the place up. Unfortunately, he won't be able to use the Victorian doorbell. "I lost it," Deans notes. "It sort of went away with all the boxes from the show. It would have been nice to put it in the house here, but I guess I can buy another one."