REVIEW: Avon Players’ New Season Opens with Emotionally Charged ‘Parade’

If the opening night of the musical, Parade is any indication of the trajectory of Avon Players’ 2015-2016 season, make a beeline for the box office to get your tickets.

With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Parade is based on the real life story of Leo Frank (Clayton Hargrave) a Jewish man from Brooklyn living in Atlanta in 1913. From the beginning it’s easy to tell he’s a gefilte fish out of water. His nervous nature is amplified by the fact he’s not comfortable in his southern surroundings. As the play opens on the Confederate Memorial Day Parade, Leo comments to his Georgia-raised wife Lucille (Lori Smith), “I’ll never understand how God made you Jewish… and Southern.” His perplexity at his current situation is further echoed in the song, “How Can I Call This Home?”

Reporter Britt Craig played by Adam Wager whips the townspeople into a frenzy with "Real Big News" Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford

Reporter Britt Craig played by Adam Wager whips the townspeople into a frenzy with “Real Big News”
Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford

However, the gaiety in Parade doesn’t last long and when the tone turns; it does so rapidly. A young girl named Mary Phagan (Noelle Holth) is murdered at the National Pencil Factory where Leo is the manager. Suspicion quickly falls on two people: Newt Lee (Richard Boykins), the African-American night watchman who discovered Mary’s body and Leo, the last person to see her. Throughout his interrogation by the local prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Dan Romzek) Newt maintains his innocence until finally Dorsey comments that they’ve already hung enough Negros and turns his full attention toward convicting Leo. Added to the volatile mix is journalist Britt Craig (Adam Wager) who is more interested in making a name for himself and selling papers than reporting the truth. And before you can say The Crucible, the spark of accusation turns into a roaring blaze and the whole town adopts a mob-like mentality against Leo.

Vocally, the cast is impressive and deftly navigates complex musical numbers with aplomb, making you feel that you’re witnessing a Broadway-caliber show. Even with all this talent, two actors in particular gave powerful performances. The first came during Mary’s funeral (“There is a Fountain/It’ Don’t Make Sense”) courtesy of Frankie Epps played by Kyle Mason. His torment over Mary’s death (who he was sweet on) and his vow to make the person responsible pay, pulls you in and keeps you riveted. The fact that Kyle is still in high school makes his feat even more impressive. Next was Avon Players’ newcomer, Nic Folson (Jim Conley) who shows off his chops in the Act I courtroom scene, “That’s What He Said” and in Act II “Feel the Rain Fall.” The later is a blues song and when Folson sings it, you feel the raw emotion with every fiber of your being, along with shivers up your spine. It’s slightly reminiscent of Paul Robeson’s soulful “Ol’ Man River” from the musical Show Boat.

Lori Smith as Lucille and Clay Hargrave as Leo Frank. Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford

Lori Smith as Lucille and Clay Hargrave as Leo Frank. Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford

Ultimately, if Leo is guilty of anything, it’s being an outsider in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the play does display a few lighthearted moments, at its core it is deeply emotional and thought provoking. And by the time the last note is sung, you’ll find yourself questioning if we’ve made any progress with regards to race and religion in the 100 years since the story took place.

Tickets for all shows are $20 ($18 on Sundays for students and Seniors). Call 248.608.9077 for tickets or order online at Group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved.

Performance Dates:

Saturday, Sept 12    8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Sept 13      2:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept 18        8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 19    8:00 p.m.

Sunday, Sept 20      2:00 p.m.

Friday, Sept 25        8:00 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 26    8:00 p.m


About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at


  1. Kevin Alfred Strom says

    There is a mountain of evidence proving that Leo Frank is guilty. The Frank forces tried to pin the crime on the Black night watchman, Newt Lee, using a planted bloody shirt. Then they planted fake evidence (a bloody club and pay stub) trying to implicate the Black sweeper, Jim Conley. The Frank forces were caught faking this evidence in 1913, and no one then or now disputes that it was faked.

    These are not the acts of an innocent man.

    They are still trying to convince people that Conley did it. Conley had just been paid more than five times what Mary Phagan had in her purse. They want us to believe he killed her for $1.20. Sure he did.

    And Conley would have had to kill her right next to the unlocked front door, in the highest-traffic part of the building, where anyone could walk in at any time, and where several people had walked by in just the last few minutes — and within 30 feet of his boss. Wow, what a plausible story.

    Besides the victim, there were only four people in the building. And three of them obviously didn’t do it. That leaves Leo Frank.

    See the American Mercury’s article, “100 Reasons Leo Frank is Guilty” for all the details.

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