Protesters appeared outside the Jacobs Theatre on Feb. 21, ahead of the first revival performance of “Parade,” Jason Robert Brown, Harold Prince and Alfred Uhry’s musical about the trial and lynching of American Jew Leo Frank. According to a press representative for “Parade,” the protestors have been identified as members of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi hate group.
A video posted to Twitter by Jake Wasserman, a reporter for the Forward, shows protestors holding banners that include slurs towards Frank and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). One protestor approached theatergoers in line, disparaging the ADL and passing out flyers which, according to another post, included the group name “Empire State Stormers.”
“Parade” follows the story of the real-life Frank, who was the superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta in the early 20th century. On April 26, 1913, 13-year-old Mary Phagan, who worked at the factory, went to pick up her pay; not long after, her body was found in the basement of the factory. Frank was charged with her rape and murder. The trial is now seen as having been rife with anti-Semitism. Though Frank was convicted, his sentence was commuted from execution to life in prison. A lynch mob kidnapped him from his prison cell and lynched him in Marietta, Georgia — Phagan’s hometown. Long thought to be wrongfully convicted, Frank was pardoned in 1986 after new evidence came to light four years prior.
The original trial, media attention and lynching led to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915. The event also shaped the ADL, which had been founded in 1913 in Chicago and championed Frank’s cause.
In a statement, producers of “Parade” said, “If there is any remaining doubt out there about the urgency of telling this story in this moment in history, the vileness on display tonight should put it to rest.”
After the performance, star Ben Platt — who plays Frank in the production — took to his Instagram to share his own message with followers. “I don’t usually address social media in this manner,” he began, “but I felt compelled this evening because I just got home from our first preview performance of ‘Parade’ … and it was so wonderful and special and I just feel so proud of every member of our cast and our wonderful crew and our creative team and everybody who was making their Broadway debut tonight and my amazing ‘wife’ and co-star Micaela, and just everybody involved in making this amazing story come to life right now.”
He continued, “Naturally, the news of the fact that there were some protestors at our show has spread a lot and that’s kind of the stamp on the evening in terms of the public perception of the evening and definitely an important thing to hear about. … It was definitely very ugly and scary, but a wonderful reminder of why we’re telling this particular story and how special and powerful art — and particularly theater — can be and just made me feel extra, extra grateful to be the one that gets to tell this particular story and gets to carry on this legacy of Leo. I just implore you to come. Thank you to the Jacobs and the Shuberts, our theater, for keeping us super safe and secure, as you will be, too, when you come see the show.”
“I wanted the button on the evening, at least for me, personally, to be to celebrate what a beautiful experience it is and what gorgeous work all my wonderful colleagues did tonight, not the really ugly actions of a few people who are spreading evil.”
“Parade” is produced by Seaview and Ambassador Theatre Group.