The Broadway community expressed shock on Wednesday when a group of neo-Nazis held an anti-Semitic protest outside the first preview of a revival of “Parade,” a musical that depicts the wrongful conviction and lynching of an American Jew over a century ago.
According to Rick Miramontez, a spokesperson for the musical, around 12 demonstrators associated with the National Socialist Movement, a well-known neo-Nazi organization with a history spanning five decades, participated in the disgusting protest on Tuesday night.
A video shared on social media showed a group of men holding up a red ink sign that read “LEO FRANKLY WAS A PEDO,” referencing Leo Frank, a factory manager from Georgia whose life and death in 1915 is the subject of the musical.
The producers of “Parade,” scheduled to open on March 16, released a statement on Wednesday condemning the protest.
“If there is any remaining doubt out there about the urgency of telling this story in this moment in history, the vileness on display last night should put it to rest,” they said.
In an Instagram video, Ben Platt, the star of “Parade,” described the demonstration as “ugly and scary,” but said it provided a “wonderful reminder of why we are telling this particular story.”
Platt mentioned that the theater personnel had taken extensive measures to ensure the safety of the cast and audience during the demonstration. Police officers were also present to monitor the protest outside the Bernard Jacobs Theatre located on W. 45th St.
Burt Colucci, the leader of the National Socialist Movement, stated on Wednesday afternoon that members of the New York chapter of his group had organized the protest without his knowledge, but he approved of their conduct.
“I can confirm that there were definitely NSM members there,” he said by phone. “The New York unit took it upon themselves; I didn’t find out until after the fact.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the National Socialist Movement, which was once the biggest neo-Nazi group in the U.S., has been on the decline following their involvement in the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
Rick Miramontez, the representative for “Parade,” expressed his hope that the demonstration at the Jacobs Theatre was a one-time occurrence related to the show’s initial preview.
It remains uncertain whether the authorities were informed in advance about the protest. The New York Police Department stated that no arrests were made.
“While I’m grateful that the NYPD was present last night, we’re not going to just be able to police ourselves out of this,” Mayor Adams said in a statement. “Hate has no place in New York City, and so we must do everything in our power to stop the growing pipeline leading to it.”
The protesters alleged that the production glorifies a pedophile.
The actual Leo Frank, who was born in Brooklyn, was found guilty of murdering a 13-year-old girl at a pencil factory in Georgia. While some accounts suggest that the victim had been sexually assaulted, this remains a point of contention. Frank was lynched by a mob amidst a surge of anti-Semitic sentiment after his conviction. His death gave rise to the Anti-Defamation League and a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1982, The Tennessean published a statement given under oath by a key witness who claimed that he had given false testimony and that Frank was innocent of the crime, which was instead committed by another man.
In a Wednesday statement, the ADL said that the “irony should not be lost on anyone that these antisemitic extremists decided to protest a play that details the true story of the lynching of an innocent Jewish man by an antisemitic mob, and used it as an opportunity to spread conspiracy theories and hate.”
The Broadway League pledged in a statement to “continue its work to ensure that theater is a safe and welcoming experience for all.”
“Now more than ever, the arts play a powerful role in creating community and bringing people together,” the league said in the statement. “The Broadway League stands firmly against antisemitism and all forms of harassment.”
According to data from the Police Department, incidents of antisemitic hate crimes in the city have recently increased significantly. In November, police arrested two men at Penn Station who were accused of planning to attack a synagogue.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine expressed concern about the protest, stating that it served as a “stark reminder of how far into the mainstream this once ultra-fringe element has come” and warning that there is a risk of it escalating beyond just speech.
The original Broadway production of “Parade” was a success, running for over 120 performances from 1998 to 1999 and winning two Tony Awards, including Best Original Score. It was also nominated for nine awards in total.
The Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union representing Broadway performers, said in a statement that “‘Parade’ tells an important story of what happens when antisemitism and other kinds of hatred are allowed to grow unchecked.”
“We are proud of our members and their colleagues who are bringing this tragedy to life onstage,” said the statement, “and the presence of antisemitic protesters at their place of work only underlines how important that work is.”