Save the blockbusters for the movie theater. You don't have to check your mind at the door with the deeper theatrical fare headed to Bakersfield College this weekend.
For its second summer musical, the college presents "Parade," which focuses on the real-life 1913 trial of a Jewish factory manager accused of a heinous crime. The case and subsequent lynching of the man led to the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the rise of Jewish civil rights organization the Anti-Defamation League.
Last summer, BC presented "Into the Woods," the college's first musical theater production in about 20 years, allowing the music and theater departments to team up on a project beyond the tight schedule of the school year.
Although that fairy-tale musical delves into some heavier topics — infidelity, murder, betrayal — the faculty went darker in its selection this year.
The show has long been on the to-do list of Brian Sivesind, associate theater professor at BC.
He said, "I thought this would be a great show to do at the college, with a live orchestra, all the programs working together. It's definitely something I pushed for."
Along with Sivesind, "Parade" came together under the guidance of Katherine Kiouses (vocal director), Dr. Kathryn Kuby (orchestral director) and Abby Bowles-Votaw (choreographer).
"We’re all working together to tell an important story," he said.
Important and timely, it seems. The director said this provocative production tackles many issues we're dealing with right now — how much can you trust the press, dealing with personal bias, the gray area of being able to celebrate Confederate statues and markers of the past.
"The modern political landscape makes this more important as a discussion piece as an art piece," Sivesind said. "... It's a chance to look back at our past and see how far we have come — and how far we have to go."
Based on real events, "Parade" is the story of Leo Frank (played by Nick Ono), a Brooklyn-raised Jew living in Georgia, who goes on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan (Kara Coughenour), a worker in the factory he manages. Fueled by the false testimony of a janitor (Markelle Taylor) and the writings of a reporter for an extremist right-wing newspaper (Stephen Bush), the community turns against Frank. He is only defended by his wife, Lucille (Nancee Steiger) and the governor, Jack Slaton (Ryan Lee).
Lessons from the prejudices of the early 20th century South resonate today.
The show connects with "the idea that right now we're dealing with the other and how we see outsiders," he said.
Even in previews, "Parade" has provoked a lot of discussion and questions, Sivesind said. Many of the cast member researched their roles and the case, and those who sat in on dress rehearsals asked for details.
"If you want to know more, that's exciting to me. That's what art should do — it should entertain you, challenge you."
Along with enjoying the show's beautiful music and soaring score, audiences may leave with more on their minds than where to enjoy a late-night snack.
"I want them to appreciate how complex the truth is, how important it is to look at things from all sides of the story. We're so quick to rush to judgment anymore because of preconceived notions. It's something we have to be careful of, to not let the emotion of a situation override your intellect."