The success of the Broadway musical Parade has rekindled interest in the Leo Frank case. In 1913, Frank was convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13 year old employee of the Atlanta pencil factory that Frank managed. After his death sentence was commuted by Georgia's governor, a mob stormed the prison where Frank was being held and lynched him. Frank became the only known Jew lynched in American history. The case still spurs debate and controversy — along with Broadway success. What are the facts of the Frank case?
“Little Mary Phagan,” as she became known, left home on the morning of April 26 to pick up her wages at the pencil factory and view the Confederate Day Parade. She never returned home. The next day, the factory night watchman found her sawdust-covered body in the factory basement. When Frank, who had just completed a term as president of the Atlanta chapter of B'nai B'rith, was asked to view the body, he became agitated, confirmed personally paying Mary tier wages, but could not say where she went next. Frank, the last to see Mary alive, became the prime suspect. (1)
“Hang the Jew.” “Hang the Jew.” This was the cry of the furious mob outside the Atlanta courthouse where Leo Frank, a Northern Jew, stood trial after his arrest in 1913 for a murder he did not commit. Anti-Semitism hung heavy in the courtroom as Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death. Though a courageous governor later commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, Frank never did serve the term. In August 1915, the "Yankee Jew" was lynched by a mob calling themselves a "vigilance com-mittee."
The brutal murder of Leo Frank did not occur in a vacuum. As the 20th century dawned, anti-Semitism was rampant in an American society where resorts commonly advertised, "No dogs! No Jews!" and magazines featured "humorous" carica-tures of Jewish people. (2)
Southern extended families are prone to telling stories and so are Jewish ones. Mine was both, so I got a double dose. I grew up hearing about the quirks of distant relatives, in-laws, and a whole network of people I didn't know. They all came with stories attached. But nobody mentioned Leo Frank. Some of the family even walked out of the room if the name came up. I found this confusing, because I knew that my Great Uncle Sig had been his employer, and Lucille Frank was my grand-mother's friend. Due to this hush-hush policy, I developed a fascination for the case, which has lasted all these years and which led to the idea for Parade. - Alfred Uhry
There are many reasons why the Frank case continues to command attention. For one, both the murder of Mary Phagan and the lynching of Leo Frank are crimes as puzzling as any Arthur Conan Doyle ever invented. Strange notes, racial paradoxes (an all-white jury convicted the factory boss on the testimony of a black witness) and an intricate conspiracy played a part. (3)
Parade deals with such weighty subjects: the trial of a man falsely accused, the specter of anti-Semitism, the trans-formation from an agrarian to industrial society, the testing of a marriage. . . . (4)
(1) American Jewish Historical Society. "Leo Frank." JewishVirtualLibrary.org. Web. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/frank.html>.
(2) "1913-1920 ADL - In Retrospect." ADL.org. Anti-Defamation League, Web. <http://archive.adl.org/ADLHistory/1913_1920.asp>.
(3) Oney, Steve. "Leo Frank Saga Still Reveals A Lot About Our Nation and Ourselves." AJC.com. Cox Media Group, 3 Nov. 2009. Web.
(4) Pogrebin, Robin. "Songwriting Challenge of Historic Proportions." The New York Times 22 Dec. 1998. Print.
July 18-20, 7:00pm July 21, 2:oopm
The musical is the true story of the 1915 murder of Mary Phagan, the false accusations against Leo Frank, and the aftermath of the trial that leads to his eventual murder. The storyline is very similar to the classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," where a man is falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and is murdered before justice is served. This musical deals with stereotypes and prejudices in a very pivotal time in American history.
Though the material is heavy and deals with the death of two of its key figures, it should not be considered the least bit offensive and will be presented in a very sensible manner. The Warrick Summer Musical program has a history of appropriately and successfully presenting shows that deal with sensitive material, such as "Chicago" (deals with wives who murder their husbands), "Les Miserables" (which deals with a number of sensitive issues), and "Ragtime" (which deals with many of the same issues that are presented in Parade). We believe that these shows are wonderful musicals that tell stories in the same fashion as many classic works of literature that deal with death, murder, racism and other sensitive subjects.
- Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
- Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
- Best Direction of a Musical
The tragic, true story of the trial and lynching of a man wrongly accused of murder is brought to emotional and theatrical life by acclaimed playwright Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy") and Jason Robert Brown, one of Broadway's most promising young composers ("Songs For A New World).
In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jew living in Georgia, is put on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker under his employ. Already guilty in the eyes of everyone around him, a sensationalist publisher and a janitor's false testimony seal Leo's fate. His only defenders are a governor with a conscience, and, eventually, his assimilated Southern wife who finds the strength and love to become his greatest champion.
Daring, innovative and bold, "Parade" won well-earned Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score in 2000. Its subject matter offers a moral lesson about the dangers of prejudice and ignorance that should not be forgotten.
Drama Desk Awards
- Outstanding Book of a Musical
- Outstanding Actor in a Musical
- Outstanding Actress in a Musical
- Outstanding Orchestrations
- Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
- Outstanding Director of a Musical