Sewickley actor takes on 2 roles in 'Parade'
With 11 Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and two Pittsburgh Public Theater shows under his belt, Joe Jackson has had to pull double duty with roles several times over the years, but never of this magnitude.
Jackson, 36, of Sewickley will play two principle roles in Front Porch Theatrical's production of “Parade” later this month.
The dark musical is the third show for Front Porch Theatricals, which was founded by Jackson's father-in-law, Bruce Smith of Aleppo, and Leon Zionts. The company produced “Next to Normal” in 2012 and “In The Heights” last year.
In the musical, which dramatizes the real-life murder trial of Jewish factory worker Leo Frank in 1913 Georgia, Jackson will play Gov. John Slaton and news reporter Britt Craig, who he describes as a “sly fox.”
“He knows how to be at the right place at the right time. He has a nose for finding the story and then exploiting it and making it as marketable and successful as he can make it. It involves bending the truth if he needs to and putting his twist on things,” Jackson said.
“He definitely knew who his audience was: 1913 Georgia rooted in their ways of life, their culture, their racism. He was able to exploit that and make a very profitable story for himself and really help his career.”
In contrast, Jackson's other character, Gov. Slaton, is well aware of the magnitude of the trial.
“Being a public figure, he sees it coming down on him if the people aren't happy. Originally, he says, ‘convict somebody, let's make sure the people are happy',” Jackson said, but later has a change of heart and decides to reopen the case to conduct his own investigation.
“He doesn't want blood on his hands. He knows very well that this could end his political career,” he said.
Jackson said posture changes and vocal differences will help distinguish between the two characters he plays.
“This is definitely a challenge to not only be able to portray them for myself, so that I know what I'm doing, but for the audience,” he said.
“It's a very interesting combination of characters. It's what makes acting fun.”
Smith said there are three underlying themes in the show: north vs. south, black vs. white and Jew vs. non-Jew.
“It's very complex,” he said.
“Parade,” written by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, debuted on Broadway in December 1998. It won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score, as well as six Drama Desk Awards.
The Broadway show was originally conceived with 34 actors, but was cut to 16. Smith said this is the first production in the Pittsburgh area of the streamlined version.
Jackson said knowing the history of the Leo Frank case particularly drew him to the part. Growing up in Atlanta, he was required in middle school to learn the history of the state.
“(Years ago) when I found out that it had been turned into a musical, I was like, ‘what? That case was so dark.' As a seventh-grader, we weren't really privy to all of the details,” Jackson said.
When he learned Smith's company would be producing it, he knew he wanted to be a part of it. It is the first time Jackson and his father-in-law are working together on a show.
“It's such a compelling, powerful story,” Jackson said.
A dance instructor at Sewickley Academy, Jackson said the show fits nicely with summer vacation. He will take some time off from work early next year to star in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of “My Fair Lady.”
“Parade” is directed by Pittsburgh native Benjamin Shaw, who was the associate director for the award-winning 2013 Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.”
Shaw now lives in New York City.
The show also stars Daina Michelle Griffith as Lucille Frank, Jesse Manocherian as Leo Frank and Justin Lonesome as Jim Conley.
Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.