On June 24, Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) Cantor Seth Ettinger will be playing the lead role in the Arizona Musical Theatre Orchestra’s (AZMTO) showcase of “Parade,” a musical about one of America’s most infamous antisemitic incidents.
Ettinger is set to play Leo Frank, the Jewish manager of an Atlanta pencil factory accused of murdering a girl whose body was discovered there in 1913. Despite little evidence, Frank was found guilty of killing Mary Phagan, who had worked at the factory, and was sentenced to death. In 1915, when Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, he was kidnapped by an armed mob and lynched. The case spurred both the creation of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights group whose activities include monitoring neo-Nazi movements, and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
The musical’s Broadway revival earlier this year caused protests by the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, who rejected the consensus that Frank was innocent of the crime (he was posthumously pardoned in 1986). Protesters carried signs calling Frank a pedophile, a charge neo-Nazis have made many times before.
Stephen Schermitzler, AZMTO’s founder and director, doesn’t believe that his relatively new and underground orchestra would elicit a protest. However, he recognizes that antisemitism is ever present and this story “is a touchy subject in America right now,” he said. “Some people don’t like seeing things like this brought to light but it’s necessary and those protests are a sign that this is the time to tell the story.”
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