Neo-Nazis protest Broadway musical ‘Parade.’ That’s where we are now

Posted By on March 2, 2023


Jason Robert Brown| Opinion contributor

There were neo-Nazis on Broadway last week.

The night of the first preview of the newBroadway production of "Parade,"audience members waiting to enter the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater were harangued by members of a far-right white supremacist group, The National Socialist Movement.

"Parade" tells the story of Leo Frank, the Jewish superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta,who in 1913 was falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. It is a signal event in thehistory of antisemitism and white supremacist terrorism in this country, and the case was behindboth the creation of the Anti-Defamation League and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

There is a website about the Leo Frank case that is not hard to find on Google. It has been around in some form or other since we first opened "Parade" in the late 1990s, and perhaps even before then. Its quite extensive and you might even think it was a legitimate research archive if you didnt dig too deep.

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But then youll run across something like this article from Oct. 28, 2019, written by the sites curator, N. Joseph Potts: Jewish Men Dying In Jail For Ravaging Young Girls: (Jeffrey)Epstein v (Leo)Frank.

And suddenly there you are, deep in the world of antisemitic conspiracy theory and fearmongering that has followed Jews around since Ptolemy ruled ancient Egypt.

When Jews first encounter this stuff at a young age, our instinct well, let me not generalize myinstinct was to laugh; surely no one believed this. We had horns? We baked matzah with the blood of Christian children? We secretly ran the worlds banking systems? Madness, obviously.

As I got older, I developed a wary familiarity with the nonsense. It didnt seem to affect my life too much, but it was always there, this persistent mockery and hostility that seemed so ridiculous on the surface but was continually being given little infusions of oxygen.

You dont need me to tell you that its all been getting a whole lot more oxygen recently. Correlation might not equal causation, but the Jew haters have certainly gotten noisier and bolder since DonaldTrumps election. You know that. I know that. They know that. Lets not be coy.

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Its not that "Parade" hasnt been on their radar before. Mary Phagans grandniece, Mary Phagan-Kean, has been loudly denouncing Leo Frankand our showsince we opened at Lincoln Centerand has been duly embraced and amplified by antisemitic groups.

There was a certain degree of hubbub when we opened our tour in Atlanta in 2000; and there are many websites (including the one I mentioned above) that include "Parade" in their list of sins against the good white people of Georgia and America, but by and large, to be honest, the show itself hasnt had a large impact on the general public, so it hasnt drawn out the crazies as much as it would have had it been, say, "Hamilton."

But before we had our gala presentation at New York City Center last fall, our producer, Jenny Gersten, called me to ask whether there had been a history of threats against the show. I didnt need to ask why she was calling. I took a deep breath. Ah, I thought. Thats where we are now.

I feel terrible that audience members waiting in line to see our show on Broadway may be accosted by neo-Nazis. (I cant believe Im writing that sentence.) But I'll tell you the truth: Im glad the thugs showed up. Im glad they feel threatened enough to emerge into the light and show their faces. They are what "Parade" is about.

'An Innocent Man Was Lynched': Reporting exonerated Leo Frank in the murder of Mary Phagan

I suspect they dont particularly know or care about the case; they just want to yell out the words Jew and pedophile. They wont really engage with you, they cant; everything they could tell you about Leo Frank and the case has been decisively debunked, over and over again.

No legitimate conversation about the murder of Mary Phagan will end with you believing Leo Frank was guilty.

There is plenty of research, much more than there was when AlfredUhry and I started work on this show, which details in stark clarity the myriad ways in which Leo Frank was targeted and attacked by a society that did not care about the evidence or the law.

The wounded, frightened populace of Atlanta wanted a Jew punished, and in the same way that some people will tell you that there was fraud in our last election no matter how much you show them that there wasnt, the people of Georgia in 1913 believed that a Jew killed that girl no matter how much you proved that he couldnt have. Some of them still do.

The evidence presented at trial and collected over the past 110 years suggest pretty clearly 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 dont 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 antisemitic hysteria.

For the past couple of months, lots of people have been saying to me how important it is that were bringing "Parade" to Broadway right now, how the world needs to see this story at this moment in time. Honestly, Ive been kind of skeptical; the storys been there all along.

But I have to acknowledge in light of last weeks events that theres 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 its affecting the other side as well.

The conversation was brought right to the stage door last week. Thats where we are now.

Jason Robert Brownis a Tony Award-winningAmerican musical theatre composer, lyricistand playwright. He is the composer and lyricist of "Parade."

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Neo-Nazis protest Broadway musical 'Parade.' That's where we are now

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