Trialed by Law or by Land: Leo Frank and Kilkenny Musical Society’s 2017 production of PARADE

by Kevina Hayes

In just 3 weeks time, Kilkenny Musical Society take to the stage with their highly anticipated 2017 production: Parade. The epic score, reminiscent of the rousing choruses of their award winning production of Michael Collins A Musical Drama in 2014, is but a melodic vehicle for the captivating and true life story of Mr Leo Frank, played by award winning local performer Michael Hayes, at the epicenter of this amazing musical.

Known to many as the first white man in the history of the United States to be lynched, Leo Frank’s mesmerizing story is also one of the earliest examples of a cultural phenomenon all too familiar in contemporary society; trial by media. The trial of Leo Frank, for the rape & murder of 13 year old Mary Phagan had all the ingredients to captivate a country’s undivided attention: the vicious killing of an innocent young girl, the questionable practice of child labour in southern states of America and the ‘outsider’ Jewish businessman who represented the ‘yankee’ profiting and thriving in America’s deep south.

As we have seen in recent times with the trials of OJ Simpson & Amanda Knox, there have been numerous instances in which the media has been accused of conducting the trial of the accused and passing the 'verdict' even prior to any official ruling. Similarly as Donald Trump has epitomised, winning in the court of public opinion is as significant as winning in a court of law and despite its centrality in all expressions of democracy, the principle of press freedom and the interests of justice can at times come crashing together.

Crime intrigues, particularly a heinous one such as the murder of young Mary Phagan in a southern city simmering with racial, religious and political tensions. And as countless instances of media history has taught us, intrigue sells. Historical documents of the time recall how the trial of Leo Frank gripped the public imagination of Atlanta, Georgia but also the entire United States. The resultant blizzard of media stories has led many to regard his trial as one of ‘trial by media’. It was not a difficult story to sell. Young, innocent girl working day & night for a meager wage in a local factory, an outsider who nobody knows and now suddenly nobody trusts may have been responsible. The ensuing wave of media sensationalism helped incite a mob mentality across the state of Georgia. Local people, hungry for vengeance, blinded by prejudice, were absorbed by media reports of a ‘sordid’ Jewish businessman, paragon of society by day, but potential murderer by night. Swept along on this wave of righteousness and pain for justice, the people of Georgia had made up their own minds.

The award winning Kilkenny Musical Society invite you to relive the journey of Leo Frank. History recalls his fate, but audiences now have the chance to be the jury and decide his legacy. Was the media the pillar of democracy it espoused to be, or the central figure in the downfall of a man trialed by sensationalism, judged by hatred and forever doomed to the chronicles of the guilty? ‘Parade’ runs at the Watergate theatre from 2nd-8th April.Tickets for this unmissable production are on sale now from the Watergate Theatre box office or online at www.watergatetheatre.com

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