Life & Culture

The Israeli actor telling the tragic story of Leo Frank

Yuval Shwartsman will play the lead role in the musical 'Parade'


The story of Leo Frank returns to the British stage this week with a performance of the musical Parade.

Leading the cast as Frank himself is Yuval Shwartsman, an Israeli actor and the only Jewish member of the cast.

The musical, at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in Woking, Surrey, portrays the story of Frank, 31, an American-Jewish factory superintendent, who was lynched in 1915 after being convicted incorrectly of rape and murder.

With the case fuelling antisemitism in Georgia, the commutation of Frank’s death sentence to life imprisonment led a group to kidnap Frank from prison and lynch him. The affair was decried outside of Georgia, particularly in the northern states.

However, most people in Georgia thought that the lynching was an example of justice being served, even selling photos of the hanging as souvenirs. Shwartsman describes the play as “an uncomfortable experience for the audience”.

Shwartsman, who lives in Surrey, says the musical, which features an ensemble of 30 actors and singers and a live band, is the most meaningful that he has ever performed in and says he was determined to get the role. He adds: “It is the best audition that I have ever done in my life.”

As the sole Jewish actor in the production, Shwartsman is clearly excited about the additional role that he has been able to play in providing the cast with insights into Jewish customs. He said that reciting the Shema in the play was “especially poignant”.

The graduate of the Guilford School of Acting said his passion for the role also comes from the antisemitism that his parents experienced while living in Moldova, and it is a source of pride for him that they will be able to see him perform.

Given that musical theatre is often light-hearted and jovial, the choice of a story with significant emotional complexity, which deals with themes of racism, antisemitism, child labour and murder, is somewhat surprising.

However, Shwartsman says that the musical genre makes the play even deeper. “With Parade, the music helps to elevate the emotion in certain moments.” For example, the final scene of act one shows Frank questioning why he was found guilty of murder. Shwartsman argues that putting this scene to music allows it to “make a more profound impact” than if it were a prosaic monologue.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive