Jason Robert Brown, who co-wrote Parade with Alfred Uhry, has shared his thoughts on the far-right, Neo-Nazi protest that took place outside the musical's current Broadway revival February 21. Members of The National Socialist Movement carried signs covered in hateful rhetoric and harassed theatregoers outside the Jacobs Theatre as they arrived for the show's first preview.
Sharing his thoughts in a post on his website, Tony winner Brown points to some famous examples of antisemitism and his own disbelief when he was younger that anyone believed the outlandish and prejudiced claims. Brown briefly summarizes the show's history as a target for antisemitic groups' hate since it first opened at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont in 1998. "Before we opened at City Center last fall, our producer Jenny Gersten called me to ask whether there had been a history of threats against the show. I didn’t need to ask why she was calling. I took a deep breath. Ah, I thought. That’s where we are now."
He continues, "I feel terrible that audience members who are waiting in line to see our show on Broadway may be accosted by Neo-Nazis. (I can’t believe I’m writing that sentence.) But I’ll tell you the truth: I’m glad the assholes showed up. I’m glad they feel threatened enough to emerge into the light and show their faces."
Parade dramatizes the life and tragic death of Leo Frank, who was a Jewish factory manager living in Georgia in the early 20th century. He was falsely convicted of murdering 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan and was sentenced to life in prison. But Frank was then subsequently lynched by an angry white mob. After Frank's death, it was revealed that Phagan was murdered by Jim Conley, another factory worker. Frank has since been exonerated.
The far-right protesters at Parade denounced Frank's innocence, and their flyers described their opposition to the Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit civil rights law group that assists victims of antisemitic allegations. The League was founded over a century ago in response to Frank's murder.
In his statement, Brown also writes, "I have always suspected that Leo Frank was a difficult man to like. He was no hero. He was no martyr. But one of the things Parade says is that you don’t have to praise or admire Leo Frank to see that he was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, fueled by rage and fear and anti-Semitic hysteria."
The musical's producers previously told Playbill: "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."
It's a perspective which is echoed in Brown's final paragraph. "For the past couple of months, lots of people have been saying to me how important it is that we’re bringing Parade to Broadway right now, how the world needs to see this story at this moment in time. Honestly, I’ve been kind of skeptical; the story’s been there all along," he shared. "But I have to acknowledge in light of last night’s events that there’s something about Ben Platt, a Jewish star, leading this American story about prejudice and scapegoating, right there in our weird little corner of the National Cultural Conversation, that really counts. Clearly it affects our audience. Obviously it’s affecting the other side as well. The Conversation was brought right to the stage door last night. That’s where we are now."
Following the incident, Parade cast members, including Ben Platt and Douglas Lyons, condemned the incident and spoke out about the importance of this show. Actors' Equity, the national labor union for actors and stage managers, and The Coalition of Broadway Unions & Guilds, representing workers both on and off stage in New York State and beyond, also condemned the protest in separate statements.