Broadway Celebrates the Great Woke Way - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Broadway Celebrates the Great Woke Way
Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond perform “This Is Not Over Yet” from “Parade” (WhatsOnStage/YouTube)

The Broadway musical Parade received six Tony Award nominations on Tuesday. Given the production’s critical praise and popularity, the accolades unsurprisingly include Best Revival of a Musical, Best Actor (Ben Platt), and Best Actress (Micaela Diamond).

The music is fantastic. The singing, costumes, lighting, and staging are great. But Parade is not more than the sum of its parts. To borrow a German phrase, the musical’s gestalt, or holistic totality, is missing. Parade puts forth a portfolio of great artistic and technical accomplishments but fails to package these enjoyable elements as a unified experience.

Parade isn’t a musical about white supremacy. It’s a pageant of self-righteousness.

The production is so fundamentally flawed that it raises the question: Is it okay anymore for actors to pretend to be people they’re not? That uncertainty is a testament to the woke fervor stifling authentic creative expressions, an action unchecked by an equally woke audience and industry community that hands out its own awards.

The revival of Parade opened on March 16 to much fanfare, mostly due to Platt’s celebrity from his Tony-award-winning run in Dear Evan Hansen.

Platt stars as Leo Frank, who is Jewish and a Brooklyn transplant working in Atlanta, Georgia, as the supervisor at a pencil manufacturing company. He is married to Lucille, who is also Jewish but has deep family roots in Georgia. When a Christian girl is found dead in the factory, Leo finds himself unjustly imprisoned. The evidence is flimsy, but the jury convicts Leo nonetheless, on the heels of town fervor over his status as a Jew and outsider.

The original 1998 production, which won Tonys for Best Original Score and Best Book, is based on a true story. And that is where the gestalt starts to unravel.

Parade acts a kaleidoscope, showing events from the perspectives of Atlanta’s Jewish, Black, and white Christian perspectives. “The Old Red Hills of Home” eulogizes the South’s Lost Cause, “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’” expresses two Black servants’ frustrations that Northerners trying to assist Leo do not care about African American suffering, and “This is Not Over Yet” is Parade’s 11 o’clock number – a duet between Leo and Lucille tinged with exhaustion from unrelenting anti-Semitism.

The problem is that I don’t believe that the Marietta residents are anti-Semitic or racist.

It’s clear that the Parade creative team does not take their white gentile characters seriously. They lack the kind of empathy that is needed to portray real people but does not require actors to agree with reprehensible ideas. It’s evident watching the big ensemble numbers that the actors are so intolerant of people who do not think like them in the present day that they do not try to convince others of their characters’ beliefs.

That impression is backed up by numerous virtue-signaling shoutouts in Playbill decrying white supremacy but also touting progressive talking points around Black Lives Matter.

It’s not all a drag, though. There are some very enjoyable aspects of Parade.

Diamond’s performance is the best part of the musical, the only thing that stuck with me after I left the theater. She deserves all the awards and recognition she gets for this role.

But one actor, no matter how talented, cannot make up for the rest of a production’s shortcomings.

Offstage, Parade has a page on its website listing books and links as “resources” to aid in “better understand[ing] the sensitive themes raised in Parade.” Books include Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be Antiracist.

The overlap between anti-racism and critical race theory, on which White Fragility focuses, is found in Marxist academic studies on exploitation. As I have previously argued in Campus Reform, anti-racism and critical race theory endeavor to erase the immigrant experience because those narratives of suffering and injustice disprove their theories.

In the 2004 PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musicalactress Carol Channing states, “American musical comedy is an outgrowth of every immigrant.”

The immigrant experience is essential to the success of Broadway productions. Take that away using left-wing theories, and suddenly the art form loses it magic. The 2022 musical Paradise Square blended Black and white perspectives in 1860s New York much better because it appreciated the complexities and contradictions of individuals in the time period.

Parade isn’t a musical about white supremacy. It’s a pageant of self-righteousness.

No matter how evil the characters are, actors still need to get in the mindset of the people they portray. From the sublime to the ridiculous, this technique has always worked to create rewarding artistic experiences for audiences that champion anti-hate messages.

In the 2004 German movie Downfall, Bruno Ganz masterfully portrays Adolf Hitler living out his Reich’s final days in the infamous underground Berlin bunker. Ganz’s performance is convincing. His Hitler is unraveling as the end approaches.

“But that’s what young men are for,” Ganz’s Hitler says in response to General Weidling (Michael Mendl) telling him that “during the fight for Berlin we’ve already lost 15–20,000 of the younger officers.”

But fits of anger, megalomania, delusion, and hatred show the audience that this is the same man who condemned millions to death at the height of Nazi power. Ganz and the ensemble embodying their Nazi characters fully make Nazism’s defeat all the more satisfying.

In the 2001 Broadway musical The ProducersGary Beach played a homosexual theater director, Roger De Bris, who, through a series of unplanned events, portrays a campy, singing Führer in his musical Springtime for Hitler. On the subject of young men, De Bris sings, “I see German soldiers dancing through France / Played by chorus boys in very tight pants.”

Belting out “heil myself” and “I’m the German Ethel Merman,” De Bris’ Hitler captures through comedy and kick turns the same megalomania on display in Downfall. The delivery is different, but the effect is the same — Hitler is a repugnant individual and Nazism a cultish threat to the rest of Europe — and the anti-fascist messaging is clear.

Neither of these examples tells the audience this is anti–white supremacy production. That is evident through the gestalt of the writing, performances, and tone.

Unlike the recent revival of ParadeDownfall and The Producers successfully communicate intolerance for violent prejudice without trigger warnings or resource pages. Those things insult the audience’s intelligence and rob them of the experience. Pageants, not musicals, announce what’s next in the lineup.

In the tradition of pageants, the Parade actors get the technical aspects of singing and choreography correct. But the performances are shallow because they are nothing more than woke thespians playing dress up.

Parade here is a cabaret, focusing more on entertainment value and artistic skill than on storytelling.

As such, Sen. Raphael Warnock’s appearance as the voice of the pre-show announcement telling audience members to silence their cellphones is fitting — an emcee for this woke Cabaret, telling theatergoers, “Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!” to the Resistance.

Zachary Marschall is editor-in-chief of Campus Reform. An assistant adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky, Zachary received his Ph.D. in cultural studies at George Mason University.


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