The year is 1913. The entire community of Marietta, Georgia, stands on the side of the road waving flags and cheering furiously as the annual Confederate Memorial Day Parade passes. This is where the story begins.
The musical “Parade,” opens in the Forbes Center on Tuesday and runs through Feb. 25. It follows the trial surrounding the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in a local pencil factory.
Kate Arecchi, the coordinator of the musical theatre program and associate professor of musical theatre at JMU, is the director of “Parade.” According to Arecchi, the musical was a strong choice for the students involved.
“[‘Parade’] also would offer significant acting challenges for the students involved in the production because it is really a musical drama,” Arrechi said. “So those are different kinds of acting challenges for the performers involved.”
The cast auditioned and received roles before Thanksgiving break. It’s been rehearsing six days a week since the beginning of the spring semester to get the production up and running.
The musical is based on the real-life trial of Jewish banker Leo Frank. The governor ultimately pardoned Frank and found him not guilty of Phagan’s murder, though an angry mob of citizens hung him shortly following the trial. The trial has become notorious for showing the racism and anti-Semitism rampant in the South in the early 20th century.
“I think ‘Parade’ is a story that needs to be told, it needs to be heard,” Madison Chandler, a freshman musical theatre major who plays Mary Phagan, said. “It’s about a historical event that I knew nothing about before we did the show. Now that I do know about this historical event, it has caused me to ask a lot of questions about my own actions.”
While the main portion of the musical follows the trial and its proceedings, another section of the plot focuses on the growing relationship between Frank and his wife Lucille. The relationship between the couple is tested as they navigate their way through the trial.
Rachel Mahar, a senior musical theatre major, plays the role of Lucille. She explains how the relationship of the couple is the musical’s backbone and strongly relates to our country’s current political climate.
“The story is so important,” Mahar said. “It really talks about representations of different cultural groups, races, male and female rights. It just gives a new perspective and it is so important for people to engage in that.”
Garrett Tyler Thompson, a senior musical theatre major, plays Jim Conley, a prime witness and fellow suspect in the murder. He explained how much he enjoys this musical because of its relevance to the country’s state of affairs and feels that the music is particularly impactful.
The musical isn’t commonly performed because of the controversial subject matter, especially in the South. The production focuses on the anti-Semitism and racism in the South following the Civil War. The cast has discussed the acting challenges that accompany performing in a show with a heavier topic in order to accurately portray their message to a modern audience.
“We actually talked about that a lot in the rehearsal process,” Thompson said. “We especially talked about what it means to be doing this show in a region like the Shenandoah Valley where the Confederacy was a big part of the culture here.”
The cast and crew have been adamant that this musical has had a profound impact on them throughout the rehearsal process and are adamant that the audience will be impacted by the story as well.
“I think that the audience — no matter what your political [party], how old you are, your background — I think everyone can find a piece of this show that they resonate with and that speaks to them,” Thompson said.
Contact Camryn Finn at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.