By Vicki Weisfeld
The last two sessions of my Theatre J class on songs and theater discussed musical numbers at opposite ends of the familiarity spectrum, both of them packed with restrained emotion. Noted song interpreter Felicia Curry led the group in dissecting “Leo’s Statement” from Jason Robert Brown’s 1998 musical Parade and “Satisfied” from Hamilton. Only one of our group had seen the former, and we’d all seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster.
Despite winning Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score and a half-dozen Drama Desk awards, Parade has never achieved widespread popularity, not because the story lacked drama or the words and music fell flat. Our group attributed the response to the difficult content, and guessed it might have found more success as an opera!
Based on real-life events in Atlanta in 1913, the story recounts how a Jewish factory manager, Leo Frank, was accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee. In a trial marked by virulent antisemitism, he was convicted. The Governor commuted his death sentence to life in prison, but Frank was kidnapped and lynched by a hate-filled mob. This tragic episode led to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and formation of the Anti-Defamation League. Not light entertainment, for sure.
“Leo’s Statement” contains only six short verses. It’s his statement to the jury near the end of his trial and begins “It’s hard to speak my heart,” which in the face of almost certain conviction seems a dramatic understatement. The song’s emotions range from hesitancy to near anger (“You think I’d hurt a child yet?”) to confusion to fear and end with a plea to the jury and, maybe, God (“I pray you understand”). Starting with the first verse, every other one, plus the last, have a lovely internal rhyme.
The musical’s theme of marching—going off to war to the beat of drums, the annual Confederate Memorial Day parade—to me, is echoed in the inexorable beat of this song. The orchestration gives few hints as to melody; that is carried by the singer.
“Satisfied,” by contrast, is Angelica Schuyler’s internal monologue, and the vital pivot point in Hamilton’s relationship thread. As she makes a wedding toast to Alexander and her sister Eliza, she reflects on when they met and the three fundamental truths she immediately recognized. He’s not the wealthy man she needs to marry (“Alexander is penniless, Ha! That doesn’t mean I want him any less”), he needs the social advantage of marrying a Schuyler sister (“That elevates his status, I’d have to be naïve to set that aside”), and Eliza is head-over-heels (“Helpless”).
In the middle of the meeting flashback, Hamilton says to her, rather flirtatiously, “Then by all means, lead the way,” which Miranda intended to convey his attraction to Angelica. Later, the longing in her—“At least I keep his eyes in my life”—is her chilly compromise. She ends the toast with “may you always be satisfied.” Because of the multiple repetitions of this last word, Miranda says, it “starts to feel the opposite of what it means.”