Let’s Do a Musical! (Really?)

Grace here.  (Theater J Director of Marketing and Communications)  It’s been a while since I’ve had a firsthand encounter of the musical-theatre-actor-kind.

However, the room was swarming with musical-theatre folk at yesterday’s first rehearsal of Parade, the Tony Award-winning musical that Theater J is co-producing with Ford’s Theatre [Grace puts on Marketing Director hat and says “Don’t forget,  premium discounted seats are being held for Theater J subscribers only through September 9th! Subscribe now, or forever regret missing this offer” Grace takes off  Marketing Director hat and continues writing].

It  was more than a little intimidating. For one thing, they’re all unrealistically beautiful…Perfect hair, perfect skin and perfect teeth that are always showing because they are always perfectly smiling and hugging each other.

For another thing, they have anti-gravitational, super-power voices that can scale unimaginable heights, soar through the air, fill theatres, and overpower even the crustiest businessman (we’ve all seen that Brooks Brothers-clad alpha male weeping at Les Mis…).

And this production of Parade brings together some of the most luminous of the luminaries, such as Tony-Award winner Euan Morton, DC-favorite Erin Driscoll and Jenny Fellner, who just finished a little show called Wicked on Broadway.

Have I mentioned that it was a little intimidating?

Presiding over the morning was  Paul R. Tetreault, the Executive Director of Ford’s Theatre, who is effusive, intelligent, and can rock a bow-tie better than anyone I’ve ever seen (apologies to Alan Chapman).  He spoke of his 14-year attachment to Parade, (revealing that when he first saw the play, it rendered him unable to speak and barely able to breathe).

He also told us about the brilliant playwright Alfred Uhry,  the long road it took to get to the Ford’s stage, and gave a bit of the background of the Leo Frank story, on which the play is based.

Ari then elaborated on the Leo Frank story, and the significance it holds for Black and Jewish people today. In his program note, he writes that Parade is “a kind of galvanizing reminder of what can go wrong in our country when hate speech and raging angers aren’t tempered and set to rest, but allowed to metastasize”

Suddenly, a vivacious lanky man with shaggy grey hair popped out of his seat and began speaking with an English accent. He turned out to be Stephen Rayne, the director, who introduced the cast, shared his vision of the play, and gave an atmospheric  recounting of the story of Mary Phagan’s death at the pencil factory, complete with English-American translation jokes (“At that time, there was a shortage of brass at the factory, which was a problem you know, because they need brass to attach the erasers to the pencils—you Americans say erasers, yes? I was told that I’m not allowed to call them ‘rubbers’, as we do back home”…)

The idea, without giving too much away, is to do the greatest production of Parade that has ever been done.  Looking around the room, feeling the buzz of  talent and potential, it seems an idea that will quite soon become a reality. Rayne has a clear and deep understanding of the play, and what it will take to truly do this stunning  play justice.

And it is, incidentally, a stunning play.

Musicals can sometimes have a bad rap. Some say they’re less ‘substantial’ or  than straight dramas. I actually used to believe this as well, (thanks a lot, Andrew Lloyd Webber!), until I discovered Jason Robert Brown (and Stephen Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, James Lapine, etc.).  What these composers and lyricists showed me is that musicals do something very similar to what Shakespeare does: heightens language to capture passions too big for everyday life and parlance.


In life, words tend to stumble along rather awkwardly. I love this particular line from Madame Bovary, which says: “Human speech is a cracked cauldron on which we knock out tunes for dancing bears, when we wish to conjure pity from the stars.” (Good visual, right?)  Or the line in Annie Hall, when Alvy says, “Love is too weak a word for what I feel – I luuurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F’s, yes I have to invent, of course I do…”

Haven’t you had those moments when your rage, indignation, love, fear, what-have-you is too big for English, and the only way to begin to release a passion that big is to create new words, fling yourself into a sonnet, or belt out a song?

For me, Parade is two hours of those moments –an exorcism of hate, an ecstacy of love, and wave after wave of music borne of blood.

On with the show…

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