October 11, 2007

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American history
StageCoach produces Parade, composer to visit NH
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

StageCoach Productions is closing its first season with a musical based on an ugly time in American history from a young, acclaimed composer. Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, written with Alfred Uhry, tells the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man from Brooklyn who was accused of murdering his 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan, in Atlanta in 1913. Brown won a Tony for the score in 1999.

Director Brett Mallard and Jeff Bowden and Jennifer Mallard, who portray Frank and his wife Lucille, recently visited Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., to read through an archive of the Frank’s letters and documents about the trial and Frank’s death.

“I think what it did is really humanized these characters for us,” Brett Mallard said. They saw many lines that are used verbatim in the show.

Parade is not all tragedy. It has other themes, such as Leo and Lucille’s growing love, although their marriage was somewhat arranged, Mallard said. There’s also a history lesson.

“I wasn’t aware this was the catalyst for the resurgence of Ku Klux Klan and [creation of the] Anti-Defamation League,” Mallard said.

Parade starts during the Civil War to show that the same “mindset” was still prevalent 50 years later, Mallard said.

“Let’s face it, in New Hampshire we don’t have a large black population. I’ve never seen that hatred in my lifetime,” Mallard said. “It’s important to remember ... this happened in our country,” he said.

Mallard directed Jekyll and Hyde for StageCoach in July, the company’s second performance. It was mostly an adult cast, but a handful of the main characters in Parade are teens. Caitlyn Donohue plays Mary Phagan and also performed in StageCoach’s first show, Jane Eyre.

Mallard’s adult son and daughter, Brandon and Jennifer, are in the cast.

“For me to be able to share a passion for theater with both of my kids is pretty amazing,” Mallard said. “The nicest part is I didn’t drive them into it,” he said. He put acting aside for several years until Brandon decided to audition for a play when he was 13.

Three vocal and drama educators seeking to produce challenging and less frequently presented plays launched StageCoach last year.

Actors Jennifer Mallard and Jeff Bowden read letters from Leo Frank to his wife Lucille and related documents at Brandeis University’s Special Archives library. Mallard and Bowden will portray the Frank’s in Parade. Brett Mallard Dramatapix photo.


Everybody loves a
Parade, by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and composer Jason Robert Brown, will be presented by StageCoach Productions at 14 Court St. Theater in Nashua Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. from Oct. 19 through Oct. 27 and Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. Ticket costs range from $15 to $18 from stagecoachproductions.org or 320-3780.

“It’s been a great year. We’ve been really successful,” Judy Hayward said. StageCoach is “community theater, but we like to do professional-quality shows,” she said.

They present Secret Garden in February for their second season, but are still deciding on a fall 2008 show. They probably will not attempt a summer show because of the scheduling challenges, Hayward said. The other founders eventually want to branch into education, but finding time is a challenge, she said. Michelle Henderson runs a vocal studio and Timothy L’Ecuyer teaches at Merrimack High School.

By coincidence, Brown is coming to Derry to perform with his band, The Caucasian Rhythm Kings, Sunday, Dec. 2, as a fundraiser for Yellow Taxi Productions.

“His music is just phenomenal. It’s really exciting. It’s really complex,” said Hayward, who is musically directing Parade. “I’ve done a lot of difficult shows, but this one, chorally, is probably one of the toughest I’ve ever done.”

YTP produced his musical The Last Five Years in 2003. A YTP board member knew the composer at the time, said Suzanne Delle, YTP artistic director. Peterborough Players included that show in their 2007 season.

Delle saw The Caucasian Rhythm Kings in New York and wanted to bring them to New Hampshire. When Brown put out the word he was looking for venues about a year and a half ago, Delle inquired but it took until now for their schedules to match, she said. He’s agreed to let Yolanda Farina, who played Cathy in YTP’s The Last Five Years, sing a few songs with the band.

“I wish he were here before the show. I think that would add extra depth to what we’re doing,” Hayward said. He’s been in London reworking Parade. “I’m just really excited about seeing him ... and hearing what he does with the music,” she said..