Why Did Neo-Nazis Protest Parade on Broadway?
When Parade held its first Broadway preview at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre last evening, members of an antisemitic neo-Nazi group protested outside.
Parade, a revival of a 1998 musical written by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown, tells the story of the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man, in Georgia in 1915. The show had a critically acclaimed run off-Broadway at New York City this past fall starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, and is set to open on Broadway on March 16. (Both stars returned for the Broadway run.)
"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. We stand by the valiant Broadway cast that brings this vital story to life each night," producers said in a statement. "We stand by the valiant Broadway cast that brings this vital story to life each night."
Why did neo-Nazis protest Parade? Who is Leo? Here's everything you need to know:
Who was Leo Frank?
Parade tells the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man in Georgia. Frank was a factory manager who was accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old worker Mary Phagan in 1913. Frank was consistent in proclaiming his innocence, and the prosecution focused its case on testimony of factory janitor, Jim Conley. (Historians widely believe Conley was the actual murderer, as he was seen washing blood of his shirt.) Frank's housekeeper placed him at home at the time of the murder.
Antisemitism marred the entire trial. Historian Leonard Dinnerstein writes that one juror said before jury selection: "I am glad they indicted the God damn Jew. They ought to take him out and lynch him. And if I get on that jury, I’ll hang that Jew for sure." Frank was sentenced to death.
He tried to appeal, but the case was not reopened. Georgia Governor Frank Slaton commuted Frank's sentence to life in prison, but after that news came out, a mob protested Slaton's home. Some time after, a group of men kidnapped Frank from a prison hospital, drove him 100 miles to Mary's hometown of Marietta, and lynched him.
In 1986, the State of Georgia issued a posthumous pardon, but did not proclaim his innocence, writing, "Without attempting to address the question of guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the State’s failure to protect the person of Leo M. Frank and thereby preserve his opportunity for continued legal appeal of his conviction, and in recognition of the State’s failure to bring his killers to justice, and as an effort to heal old wounds, the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, in compliance with its Constitutional and statutory authority, hereby grants to Leo M. Frank a Pardon."
Parade tells the story of Leo Frank.
The musical is a dramatization of what happened to Frank during the trial and after. When the show initially premiered in 1988, it won the Tony for Best Book and Best Original Score.
The show was revived this fall at New York City Center, starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond as Leo and Lucille Frank. The revival then began previews on Broadway at the Jacobs Theater on February 21, 2023.
"Parade would be a piece of art worth viewing and telling regardless of its contemporary relevance," Platt told Vogue, speaking about rising antisemitism in America. "But it’s just really rare to have a piece where you feel that, as an artist, you would do it no matter the context, but then as a human, it’s a story that’s important to tell, and there’s a real reason to do it now."
What happened on the first premiere?
As theatergoers lined up outside, members of a neo-Nazi group, identified with the National Socialist Movement, carried posters and handed out flyers accusing Leo Frank of being a pedophile and child murderer, and shouted antisemitic and racist slurs.
The group, like other antisemitic groups, believe Frank is guilty of murder of Mary. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, " That allegation is frequently made by neo-Nazis who reject the consensus that Frank was innocent of the crime. They see the advocacy on his behalf as evidence of Jewish control of the media, a longstanding antisemitic trope."
"The Leo Frank case is interesting in that you’re never going to meet a Nazi who doesn’t know about it," Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Washington Post in 2017.
Flyers the group handed out included the logo of the Schutzstaffel, or the SS, a paramilitary group in Nazi Germany.
How did the cast and crew react?
"For those who don’t know, there were a few neo-Nazi protesters from a really disgusting group outside of the theater, bothering some of our patrons on their way in and saying antisemitic things about Leo Frank, who the show is about, and just spreading antisemitic rhetoric that led to this whole story in the first place.," star Platt said on Instagram after the performance.
He continued, "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, theatre can be. And it made me feel extra, extra grateful to be the one to get to tell this particular story and to carry on the legacy of Leo."
Platt added, "I just think that now is really the moment for this particular piece. 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."
Support flooded Platt's Instagram comments section. Danny Burstein, who recently starred in Moulin Rogue!, wrote, "I simply cannot wait to see your show and support every single one of you. I love you and am so proud of you. Not just for your years of beautiful work, but for your kindness, calm & love in the face of evil. As if I could love you more. See you soon, my friend." Singer Ariana Grande commented, "love you."
Other cast also spoke out on their Instagram. Prentiss E. Mouton, a swing, posted on his Instagram story with a video of the street: "Are you really doing the real work of an artist if you aren't be[ing] protested by Neo-Nazis? If I wasn't proud enough to be a part of this production, it was solidified today." Douglas Lyons, who plays Riley, wrote: "To the Nazis who protested our beautiful show with hatred directly outside our dressing rooms, fear don’t work here baby. We gon tell the story and we gon tell it with conviction."
Parade on Broadway is currently in previews, and opens on March 15, 2023.
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