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updated: 3/11/2013 1:49 PM

Harper theater director talks about spring play

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  • Katy Harth, left, is Lucille and David Pfenninger is Leo Frank in the musical "Parade," which is being put on the next two weekends at Harper College.

      Katy Harth, left, is Lucille and David Pfenninger is Leo Frank in the musical "Parade," which is being put on the next two weekends at Harper College.
    Courtesy Harper College

  • David Pfenninger, left, is Leo Frank and Katy Harth is Lucille in the musical "Parade," which is being put on the two new weekends at Harper College.

      David Pfenninger, left, is Leo Frank and Katy Harth is Lucille in the musical "Parade," which is being put on the two new weekends at Harper College.
    Courtesy Harper College

 
Submitted by Harper College

One hundred years after the tragedy on which it's based, Harper College will stage its production of the Tony Award-winning musical "Parade."

The true story of an innocent man wrongly accused of murder, the show explores themes of bigotry, violence and anti-Semitism within the framework of American history.

Director Kevin Long talks about the significance of the show and bringing a dramatic musical to the Harper stage. His comments have been edited for length.

Q. How did you choose "Parade" as this year's show?

A. The musical highlights the best and worst about America and humanity. Not only does it reveal a truly dark period of our history, but the show is also strongly relevant to our society today. The mission statement of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center states, "Remember the Past, Transform the Future." This is not an easy story to tell, but it is an important story to tell. I believe that in performing it, we are helping to transform the future so that an event like this never happens again.

Q. The musical is based on true events. Can you tell us what it's about?

A. The musical is the tale of prejudice unleashed and justice miscarried -- the true story of the trial and conviction of an innocent man. In 1913 Georgia, Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, already ostracized for his faith and Northern heritage, is accused of murdering a teenage factory girl, Mary Phagan, on the day of the annual Confederate parade. After Leo is labeled guilty by almost everyone, a sensationalist publisher and a janitor's false testimony seal his fate.

We also witness a beautiful love story in reverse. Lucille, who tirelessly crusades for Leo's freedom, finds her own strength and power through her ability to help her husband while Leo grows to respect and develop true deep love for the woman he took for granted.

Q. Do you think that the show discusses issues or contains lessons that are still relevant today?

A. We can take the lessons learned and avoid repeating them again. We are living in a society that continues to become more and more divided: North vs. South, liberal vs. conservative, educated vs. noneducated, wealthy vs. poor. We as a society are still perpetuating wrongful stereotypes and participating in violent bullying based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and more. I think the show challenges our students and our audience to take action. If you see this type of behavior, speak up and speak out.

Q. Has the cast done any research on the real-life events or people that they are portraying? How has it informed their performances?

A. Yes. This cast has performed a tremendous amount of research in order to effectively and respectfully tell this story. In addition, our dramaturge Richard Middleton-Kaplan, professor of English and humanities here, has provided significant research of the Jewish faith, the time period, and the actual events. I showed the cast the PBS documentary "The People vs. Leo Frank," which dramatizes the 1913 murder of Mary Phagan and the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. In addition, I have read several books and scholarship on the case and trial.

Q. How has the experience of working with this cast been?

A. They are supremely talented, but more importantly, the company and I have felt a profound sense of responsibility in bringing Leo and Lucille's story to the stage. They have grown tremendously throughout our process not only as performers, but also as people.

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