When Ben Platt steps onto the stage for Parade, for the show’s two hours and 30 minutes, he rarely leaves—not even during intermission, where he sits in full view of the audience for the entire 15 minutes. It's a sign of his dedication to telling the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man who was falsely convicted of murder, then was murdered himself by a hateful mob in an act of gruesome antisemitism.
“It’s a way I can pay homage to Leo nightly. It’s a very ritualistic thing for me,” Platt tells Playbill. “He has become this symbol and martyr, but that 15 minutes is the moment every night where I can remember that this was a man who was, for the last two years of his life, stuck in a room by himself, then wrongfully murdered. It just personifies him for me, and never lets his story get too big or too far in my head.”
With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Alfred Uhry, Parade, which is running on Broadway through August 6, transports audiences to the “old red hills of home” in 1915 Georgia. A century later, on the stage of the Jacobs Theatre in New York City, the subject matter of the musical Parade feels ever-present. Its stars, Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, are the first pair of Jewish performers to play Leo and his wife Lucille Frank on Broadway, carrying each other through this painful and pivotal moment in American and Jewish history.
If it was not already clear to some that addressing antisemitism is as pressing of a discussion now as it was during the real-life events dramatized in Parade, the mob of Neo Nazis that swarmed the first preview performance of the show on February 21 serves as a horrific and urgent reminder. For a New York City theatre-going audience that seeks to ignite difficult conversations through art, but often allows many of those conversations to quickly burn out, Platt and Diamond hope that Parade will spark the realization in its patrons that antisemitism did not disappear in the 20th Century.
“Antisemitism is the type of conversation that seems to spend most of the time in the shadows…I’m hoping this will fight against that recession of the conversation and keep it moving forward,” says Platt. “I hope Parade puts emotions and names and faces to this conversation, so it’s not this larger-than-life, political thing that you can feel really removed from.”
Diamond brings up the title of a Dara Horn book, People Love Dead Jews, pointing out that when one thinks of stories about antisemitism onstage, it’s often a depiction of some of the most tragic, traumatizing events in Jewish history. But to those unaffected, those stories can feel distant from modern American culture. “Parade fits in a unique place in the Broadway canon, because it’s not about the Holocaust or the Jewish diaspora. It’s just about a very specific American hatred for Jews,” she says.
Platt adds, “We can’t chalk it up to being overseas. This is right here.”
During Platt and Diamond’s interview with Playbill, not only is their rapport with each other evident, but the deep bond they’ve built is palpable in the room—the pair leans into each other, Platt’s arm firmly around Diamond’s shoulder. Their onstage roles certainly call for a strong level of support and solidarity, as husband and wife fight to save their future under the threat of Leo’s conviction.
The two first performed together in the production’s 2018 workshop, when Platt was 25 years old, and Diamond was just 20 years old. Parade first premiered on Broadway in 1998, and only ran for 85 performances. But over the years, it has gained a loyal following. This Broadway revival originated as a limited engagement at New York City Center last year, with Platt and Diamond attached to it. Despite not having a long duration of rehearsals for either the 2018 workshop or the 2021 limited engagement (according to Platt, they had about a week prior to the New York City Center run last November), Platt and Diamond feel a deep connection to their roles, and to each other.
“When we first came to it in 2018, most of the painting in our head was the version we’d already seen with [original cast members] Carolee Carmello and Brent Carver,” says Platt. “The more time we’ve had to live with Parade and make it our own, Leo has started to become his own entity to me, as opposed to an amalgamation of Brent and stories about [Leo Frank’s] persona.”
Diamond is stepping into her first-ever lead role on Broadway—her Cher Show performance, although show-stopping, did not take center stage in the same way as Lucille. The actor admits she shares Lucille’s growing pains, as she navigates stepping into the spotlight. “I love how Lucille gets to find her voice in Act II,” says Diamond, speaking to how her character goes from a timid wife to a fierce advocate for her husband. “What’s kind of beautiful about it is, it’s not necessarily comfortable to find your voice. Lucille is not excited that she has to come out of her shell in this way. And that’s been true for me, too.”
For Diamond and Platt, portraying their characters has caused them to undergo their own personal journeys of self-reflection, as they assess their own relationships to Judaism. Both express feeling closer to their cultural identities because of it.
“I think as Jews, we always struggle with, ‘Does being not-so-observant make you a bad Jew? Does not being kosher make you a bad Jew?’” Platt explains. “Being in this piece has been a great lesson that there’s no denying your Judaism…it’s part of my tapestry.” To further illustrate this reminder to himself, Platt keeps a picture in his dressing room of his family, surrounding his brother who is reading the Torah at his bar mitzvah.
Diamond agrees, sharing: “So much of being a Jew is asking yourself questions. And I think with this piece of art, that is the goal. I don’t think this piece is interested in—what’s the quote that’s on our stage?” She pauses. “Without addressing…?”
Platt chimes in, “Without addressing the guilt or innocence.”
The two are referencing the quote that appears on a plaque placed in 2008 at the site of Frank’s lynching: “Without addressing guilt or innocence, and in recognition of the state’s failure to either protect Frank or bring his killers to justice, he was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986.” That quote is projected on the stage at the top of Parade.
Diamond continues, “I think that’s so true about our show. It’s not a ‘whodunnit,’ it’s a—”
Platt adds, “How did this happen?”
Says Diamond, “And I think those are Jewish questions. So, I’ve loved having this moment where through my work, I’m able to reassess how I want to show up as a Jew in this world.”
With all the questions and contemplation that Parade brings up, when asked if the Parade team is doing anything to support the company on an emotional and psychological level as they tackle the show’s immensely heavy material, Platt and Diamond quickly answer in unison: “So much,” both stressing that extensive effort has gone into facilitating a safe space
“It’s the most sensitive room I’ve ever been in, in any medium: TV, film, theatre, music, anything,” Platt enthuses. “Every time there’s a triggering prop, a piece of language…for our Black cast members, for our Jewish cast members, white cast members who are playing really difficult racist characters and having to say very oppressive things…there’s so much care.”
Platt additionally notes with a chuckle that it also helps to have a dressing room with pink-painted walls, earning a grin from Diamond and the response, “And we have really good meals together!”
chronicles the antisemitic persecution that Leo Frank endured, Platt and Diamond note that Parade is also about the system of hatred and marginalization that touches everyone. Because it’s set in the South in the early 20th century, during segregation, Parade also touches on the racism and oppression that Black people experienced in Georgia at the time, and the ways that racism and antisemitism are intertwined.
Platt describes that his favorite moment in the show, “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin,’” feels like it was written for the modern day. The song opens Act II of Parade, where two Black characters are given space to comment on the proceedings. “It’s one of the first pieces in musical theatre that tries to hold racism against Black people and antisemitism in the same conversation," says Platt. "Embracing the grey-ness of both of those conversations, and not holding one above the other or trying to make them the same or different. It really kind of clicks the whole piece into a very contemporary place.” It's also the rare moment in the show that Platt gets to leave the stage.
Diamond shares a similar sentiment for a different scene in the show, emphasizing that capturing the intersectionality between both the marginalized groups depicted in the story is crucial. At the same time, Parade doesn’t shy away in showing the divide that occurred between the Jewish community and the Black community in the South at that time.
This is exemplified by Diamond’s favorite moment in the show. It comes just before the curtain closes, when Lucille and her housekeeper, Minnie (Danielle Lee Greaves), share a moment of understanding, despite the conflict the pair experienced due to Leo’s court case. “We look at each other before the big, final chorus. And it’s just a Black woman and a Jewish woman looking at each other, knowing they were fucked over by the same system. I think that’s such a beautiful way to end the piece, of ‘I see you, and I feel seen by you,’” Diamond shares.
In a country where the fight for equality and against discrimination is still raging, Parade’s rousing Act II number rings clear: This is not over yet.