Evan Rocco says he’s a bit of an outsider, like Leo Frank, the man he plays in Nyack High School’s production of “Parade.”
Like all freshmen, the 14-year-old is new to Nyack High, but he’s also new to Nyack public schools, having attended Rockland Country Day School up until this school year.
“I had seen a couple of kids before, but I didn’t know anyone here,” Rocco says.
Leo Frank, the real-life figure at the center of “Parade,” was an outsider, too: a Jewish Brooklynite who moved to Georgia and took a job in his father-in-law’s pencil factory. In 1913, Frank stood trial, accused of raping and killing a young factory girl, Mary Phagan. Convicted, his death sentence was later commuted to life in prison. But in 1915, an angry mob pulled him from prison and hanged him.
“Parade,” with a book by Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”) and music and lyrics by Rockland native Jason Robert Brown (“The Last 5 Years”) raises weighty issues including mob rule, justice and anti-Semitism. It won a best-score Tony Award in 1999, and was named best new musical by the Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics’ Circle.
“Playing Leo is difficult for me,” Rocco says. “We’re both from Brooklyn, but I’m Italian and he’s Jewish.”
Frank is a nervous character, Rocco says, but he runs the range of emotions.
“The song ‘Factory Girls’ is hard for me,” he says. “It’s in the trial and it’s like their flashback where the girls are explaining what I was doing to them, even though it didn’t really happen.
“I’m sitting there and then I have to act out what they’re describing, I go into this lascivious state where I’m flirting with them. It’s a more difficult number.”
While he plays him, Rocco says he doesn’t really admire Frank.
“He was a very hard worker, but he was very strict and he didn’t really respect his wife until the end when she proved that she could do something for him.”
Nyack: “Parade,” 8 p.m. March 16, 17, 23; 2 and 8 p.m. March 24. $12; $7 students; seniors free. 845-353-7101.
Photo by Peter Carr/The Journal News: Evan Rocco takes a break from “Parade” rehearsal at Nyack High School.